Dying Gracefully

I’ve had to fly back to Seattle as a friend of mine (who I have power of attorney for) had to be put on hospice right before I went on my Caribbean vacation.

Once I landed in Seattle, I went straight to the adult family home from the airport. My friend’s name is Lois. She was in bed when I arrived and a social worker from hospice was sitting next to her. (Hospice is called in when a person has less than 6 months to live.)

Lois looked at me but I’m not sure she remembered me — at least not right away. After a few moments she appeared to recognize me but there was no spark in her any more. She was on an oxygen tank as her oxygen level has been going below 90%. They are slowly trying to wean her off of all the medications she is on although they have added two — morphine and an anti-psychotic drug — as she gets really agitated in the evenings. Both of these medications are administered at very low dosages however the anti-psychotic drug is the one that also makes her seem less “real.” She stares off into space a lot and repeats things quite frequently when she does talk.

When we lived in Seattle my husband would get a grocery list from Lois every Sunday and deliver the groceries to her. It was no surprise to me that she kept repeating his name to me over and over again. She kept asking if he was making chicken for dinner as the home she lived in was having chicken for dinner that day. I told her “yes” even though I didn’t know what he was making.

Lois remembered my sons names too — both of which she hoped would marry some day soon.

We spent two hours together before it was dinner time. It took two people to move her from her bed to the wheelchair. She had a blank stare during the whole process. Once they wheeled her to the dinner table, they put a bib on her and placed the food in front of her. Pureed chicken with green beans. Yuck! She looked at the food and just stared at it. I couldn’t tell if she was disgusted with what she saw but I know I was. The staff gave her a couple of bites and then she refused to eat more. They added a powder to her water called Thick It to make the consistency like a gel so she doesn’t choke on the water as she has trouble swallowing now.

Thick It

It was sad to see her sitting in front of two other people who were eating chicken and mashed potatoes only to have hers be nothing that resembled theirs. Baby food, I thought. Baby food might taste better to her than this — not that I had tasted what they had pureed but the appearance was ugly. How can you prepare pureed chicken to look pretty though? I made a mental note to ask the nurse later this week if she could eat baby food instead.

She sat at the dinner table for over a half hour. The staff were cheerful and patient. They allowed her to try to feed herself which was painful to watch. She would occasionally pick up the glass of gel-like water and sip it. The staff would come back to check on her and give her more mouthfuls of the pureed chicken.

How sad that one’s life has to come to the end like this. If she continues eating so little, the doctor estimates she will die in less than 6 months which is why hospice was brought in.

Is this dying gracefully? A friend told me that there are three ways to die:

  • Old age
  • A disease (like cancer)
  • Quickly (as in a heart attack that one does not recover from)
Lois is dying of old age that is advanced by her dementia. She lacks the ability or strength to want to eat or do anything for herself at this stage of her life.
All I can do is visit her for these next few days and let her know that I care about her. Every time I leave her, I give her a kiss on the forehead. She in turn gives me two kisses on the cheek. Yes, she still remembers me but one day she won’t. I will still love the sweet person that she has always been.



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