By Steve Moran
The last 8 months of my mom’s life were lived out in a small six-bed assisted living community. She was significantly compromised physically and mentally. Her husband, who was living with us, would visit for several hours each day and I would go nearly every day. She was on hospice care from the day she moved in.
On the day she died, I woke up realizing that it had been 3 or 4 days since I had last visited. I had an 8:30 breakfast meeting followed by a 10 o’clock phone call. I planned to head to her community right after breakfast and take my call there.
Breakfast ran a bit later than I expected and so I pulled to the side of the road to make my call. Ten minutes into the call, a new call was coming and my caller ID showed my mom’s community. I knew what it had to mean.
I quickly finished my call then returned the call to my mom’s community. I was right, they had been calling to tell me that my mom had fallen asleep for her final time.
I made the drive over, they also called her husband and we met at the community. They asked us to give them a few more minutes with my mom . . . to get her cleaned up, before we went in. We held her hand, touched her skin, she was still warm to the touch. We told stories and talked about our love of her and her love of us.
To this day I feel bad about that business call, it was a sales call that didn’t even turn into business. I still think “I wish I had been there when she passed.” But this is an emotional response and it is almost certainly more about me than about her.
She was alone when she died. The staff had delivered breakfast, went back to check on her 15 to 20 minutes later and she was gone. As near as we call tell, her passing was swift and pain-free. In reality, my mom, the woman who raised me, who cared for me, who loved her husband, who cherished her grandchildren disappeared nearly two years earlier when she had a massive debilitating stroke.
Living and Dying
Every family deals with death and dying in their own way, and it is a lot different when the person who is dying is old and has lived a full life than when someone dies at a younger age. In the senior living sector, we are all about providing residents and families the best possible experience even in or maybe especially in those last moments of life.
Yet . . .
Our first obligation ultimately is to the living: to protect the residents who still have months and years to live; to protect our staff members who are providing care every day at significant personal risk; to the family members of the living and the dying. We have an obligation to society to not be transmitters of the virus to others.
We as a nation have screwed up. I have no idea whose fault it is except all of ours. We have a serious medical crisis that has left us without adequate Personal Protection Equipment, which means we can’t right now afford to gown up family members, which in some cases would make this easier, but we don’t.
Life is Hard
One of the worst parts of living in an affluent and prosperous time in the world’s history and in an affluent and prosperous society is that we get used to thinking that we should always be able to have what we want when we want it and the way we want it.
In truth, life is hard and it is unfair.
This is one of those moments of unfairness that we need to be thinking about how to deal with and how to help families work through in as compassionate and creative way as possible, but our first obligation must continue to be to the living.