End of Life and Forgiveness

“Perhaps the gods are kind to us, by making

life more disagreeable as we grow older.”

-Sigmund Freud

She came for a checkup on her arthritis. When I met her, she was in constant pain; unable to cope with even the easiest of chores. Her husband and soul mate of fifty years was there every minute; every second; helping with whatever he could and drying her tears when there was nothing else that he could do to help.

I see these scenes often. A lifetime of compatible companionship blends two human beings into one. Even the most trivial of needs are anticipated. It is never a chore to go out of your way.

She improved. Within months she was back to as normal as a woman her age can be. I could tell that he was satisfied with her recovery when he stopped coming with her for her visits.

Years ago, she made a special appointment to see me. She looked tired and a bit nervous. I read the history that the nurse had obtained.

“Husband died recently. Having trouble sleeping.”

Talk to me. What happened to him?

“It wasn’t one thing. First his heart. Then his bowels locked up. They found a cancer when they opened him up. After that it was one thing after another…”

It must have been hard on you.

I could tell that she was surprised to hear me say this. It seemed clear that no one had thought of her needs at a time when the patient soaked up all the attention.

“It was hard. Towards the end he could do nothing for himself. I got little sleep. I could not leave the house for more than a few minutes.”

A few seconds of silence.

“It was tough.”

Something in the way she told me about her ordeal caught my attention.

Tell me more. What happened at the end?

“He could not turn in bed by himself. I had to feed him, but half the time he could not swallow. I had to be at his bedside all the time.”

I am impressed. How did you manage? I should hire you as a nurse.

She smiled. But still, I sensed some discomfort. As if all had not been said.

When my father died… My mother was in much the same situation you were in. But he kept struggling, as if he did not want to leave her alone.

I noticed that she perked up. She sat up straight. She wanted to hear this story.

My mom and my sister finally went to his bedside and sat on the bed; close to him. They told him it was OK to let go; that mom was fine and that we would look after her. Within a few minutes his breathing slowed down. Soon after he died in peace.

“I did the same thing,” she blurted out.

“I talked to him. I told him it was so hard for him. I asked him if he really wanted to go on living with all the pain and trouble breathing.”

She stopped talking for a few seconds. She was waiting for any kind of reaction from me. I chose to remain silent; she needed to figure this out by herself.

“I told him that I would be OK. That he had done more than enough for me when I was sick. That he should stop fighting.”

There. I could see the relief in her features. For a few weeks she had carried this guilt; this feeling of responsibility that maybe she had pushed him into this decision because it was getting to be too hard on her.

I do not think that my mom did anything wrong. My dad was the caretaker. Although she carried the household on her shoulders, she did so quietly and behind the scenes. He always felt that he was the one who provided for everyone and fixed everything. I do not think that he ever realized how strong and independent she was. I think that he was afraid to die.

She was eager to jump in.

“My husband too. He worked awfully hard; was always a good provider. He would do anything for us. But there was so much that he never got to hear or see…”

I had gotten her to acknowledge that maybe her marriage was not as one-sided as she had allowed herself to think. I spoke some more.

I know that it was hard for my mom. But I know that it had to be a relief for her to have him die in peace, and to be able to once again be able to take care of herself.

“I know what you’re saying. It is hard to be alone after all these years. But my health was going downhill. And he understood.”

I know he did. He was a good man. He was crazy about you.

A few tears. I could tell that she was at peace.

Stay on the same medicine. It is OK to feel alone and overwhelmed at times. Let me know if you have trouble sleeping, or if you lose your appetite. I think that you will do well.

She smiled. I stood to give her a hug. She smiled again.

She walked out to the waiting room, more alone than she had ever been, but free of guilt and second thoughts. She walked straight ahead and with purpose. She was a survivor.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Pat Leibold

    I felt as though you were talking about me and my illness of RA then the recovery after so long when my husband had to dress me and take care of my needs and then he developed cancer and I took care of him for 5 years. I also had to tell him to let go I’d be okay. Thank goodness he to was spared the humiliation of someone other than myself taking care of him. He was in hospice only 4 days when he let go.

  2. Cordell Webb

    This is a story you hear many times. A couple is so very devoted to each other and they take on the responsibility and would have it no other way. My mother was in this position of caring for my dad and would have it no other way but in the end it took her also. We should be so lucky to have such a devoted mate to be at our side at the good times and the worst of times. We can truly appreciate a mate when we need them the most. Not everyone is that blessed as we have been.

  3. Felice

    Your timing is so perfect my beloved niece fought a magnificent fight for two years. She was a Cancer patient and one of the sweetest souls I have ever known. When I talked to her she said that she was tired, but her friends told her that she should fight for her husband and her children. I told her that this is her fight not their’s and she will know when it is time to rest. She did… and what excellent company she is going to be in. :).

  4. Joe Kickham

    They were lucky to have each other. Life’s experiences and trials bring us as couples closer as we go through life. That what love is built on.

    1. Isn’t that something, how matters that seemed so important and at times irritating when we’re young seem rather trivial at another point. I still haven’t made my peace with this fact. Part of me wants everything to be absolute and immutable.

  5. Irene Cowan

    It’s so hard to “let go” of our loved one. I remember with my mom…24 agonizing days of pain…and she kept holding on…morning and evening I was with her, needing her, my momma, my ROCK during my growing years, my sounding board (loving) in my adult years. Her hugs and kisses…She kept holding on I think maybe because of me?? At one point my twin sister yelled at me in mom’s hospital room, ‘Rene, mom’s holding on because of you. You’ve got to let go!’ I didn’t want to hear that, but later when I was alone with mom, although she was unconscious, I had a little talk with her and one of the things I said was that it was time for both of us to ‘let go.’ A little while after that talk she passed away. I remember returning to the hospital when we were called and seeing my mom, her beautiful face, not showing pain, so at peace, so beautiful…at REST at last…in heaven now.

    1. Betty Townsend

      Oh how hard it is to let go of a loved one. Parents or spouses or children, we Have to do the loving thing, what is right for them. Anything else is because of our loss.

  6. vannessa ramirez

    Loved this story…so touching.