Jun 19, 2024

Waving goodbye as we pass over

Waving goodbye as we pass over

It is inevitable for all of us that death will occur at one stage in our lives. Working in palliative care, I see people dying at various ages from various diseases, mainly dementia-related.

I endeavour to be creative about the process of dying, focusing on the person and with dignity, not the condition. Gathering knowledge about the person and discovering their likes and dislikes assist in preparing the room in which they take their last moments of air.

We aim to make the environment as memorable, peaceful and pain-free as possible for family and friends but for the person experiencing their final moments on Earth.

Their complete existence from birth stretched behind them, with all the trappings of possessions, relationships, and friendships laid to rest.

I attempt to empathise and create a room filled with as many memories for the person, from aromas, lighting, music and ambience in a tranquil and peaceful restful manner. I strive to make the last moments into special lifetime memories for family and friends to remember.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to the ones we love; making the person comfortable, clean, and pain-free is the goal and making as many of the last wishes possible.

I like to compare the final moments before dying to falling asleep at night. My sleep method is like wandering down a corridor towards the sleep zone; on that journey, we pass by people we have known and loved over our lifetime.

The last chance to offer a smile, shed a tear, provide a virtual hug and a chance to wave goodbye; they could be lovers, children, grandchildren and friends. The images are imprinted on our brains for the final time before we reach our destination.

I believe the room should be calm and peaceful and how the person would have wanted, with the perfume of favourite flowers, the music of choice that meant a significant memory and taste of much-loved flavours on the lips and tongue for the last time.

Voices of loved ones surrounding the person with love; research has shown that hearing is the last of the senses to disappear before we die.

I recall a patient I was looking after in palliative care who came into the care facility with the sole intention of transforming the room into a near replica of her lounge- room, from the music centre to the standard lamp and memorabilia collected over the years that had significant importance to her.

Her love of whiskey was evident, even taking medications with a small dram and the Bailey nightcap before going to sleep.

One of her last wishes was to taste the whiskey on her lips as she was dying. This request staff carried out diligently when attending to personal care and moistening her lips and tongue with whiskey. 

A recent conversation with a woman in palliative care told me how lucky she was to have been surrounded by her loving family and that she was in God’s waiting room and ready to go. That night, she died peacefully and pain-free, surrounded by her family.

We all make decisions in our lifetime, so why not choose those last moments on Earth that made us happy throughout life?

Another memorable woman I cared for had been living with a mild form of dementia for many years; let’s call her Lucy. She could easily have been misdiagnosed and only exhibited signs of eccentricity rather than symptoms of dementia. 

Lucy had been married five times, the recent husband Sven only passing away the year before coming into care.

Sven was a Norwegian pilot she met in the war; after four previous husbands, two she married and divorced, one died, and the last husband killed in the war. Sven had been the love of her life. 

Lucy always maintained in her lifetime that she had two significant passions: quality red wine and the company of gentlemen.

As Lucy put it, she invented flirting and found that being a natural blond gave her an advantage over other women and maintained a spark of excitement in her life.

It certainly got her noticed; heads would turn when she entered the room, and the magic she portrayed gave the attention she desperately desired. It’s true what they say, “Blonds have more fun!”

Her favourite time of day was lunchtime; she would happily consume a light meal and two glasses of wine and then flirt around the tables of any unsuspecting gentleman in the dining room.

On this particular day, Lucy’s 86 years in this world were about to end, having spent most of the morning in the garden enjoying the sunshine, smelling the flowers, glancing and toying with any man available.

After lunch and her usual glasses of wine, she danced around the tables, smiling, giggling like a feverish schoolgirl, attracting as much attention as possible.

She then waltzed her way out of the dining room down the corridor to her room; moments later, we heard a loud crash and discovered Lucy had a fatal heart attack and had dropped down dead in the way she would have wanted.

Her life had been rich and colourful, ending in a short and relatively brief amount of pain. Lucy had lived her life on her terms with fun and laughter and dying the same way she led her life, with a spectacular exit that will be forever in the memory of the people she left behind.

 

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  1. What great stories, such care for folks and such fun too. Lucy certainly had a wonderful time, reminded me of Elsie from Cabaret! Keep them coming Michael.

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