from Wendy Auxillou, writing about the death of her father Ray last week....
It is considered taboo to talk about death and dying, but after watching my father slowly pass away, I wish I had had more information about what to expect. So I will share my experience here. It is the most surreal thing I have ever experienced, as I have never before in living memory watched a person die.
Some of it was shocking, some of it was unexpected, some of it I wished I had known about before so I could have done some things differently, not the least of which was making sure my father was as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.
When I indicated to my father that I was on the way to Miami from Malta and would be relieving Silvia as his carerer, he responded with an email saying "change of deathbed chaperone". He already knew death was imminent. It is US that didn't know.
One week or so before his death, my father was admitted to the University of Miami Hospital. This was not his of his doing, he did this to appease US, his family members who were begging him to try something ... anything... to rid himself of the disease. By this time, I am sure he was already prepared for and expecting death. But, he agreed to it still because he loved us and saw that WE were suffering.
At the time he was admitted, he had not eaten or drunk anything of substance for several days, maybe even a week (hence the reason we urged him to go to the hospital). In hindsight, and after reading more literature in order to understand what all I witnessed, I came to understand that dying begins days or weeks before the actual event. One of the first signs is a severely diminished appetite and thirst. It is the beginning stages of the body shutting down. However, I did not know this. And I wish I had.
Since I was his chaperone, I was "admitted" to the hospital along with my father. I kept a 24 hour vigil on him as his carer during his entire internment there. I "slept" on a separate cot in his room (when I was able to sleep), and kept him company whenever he was awake. I was there for a total of 7 nights.
At the hospital, my father was put on IV electrolytes to hydrate him, probably in contravention of the already in-place dying process. As the dying person loses his appetite and thirst, the throat becomes dry and swallowing becomes more difficult. This is a natural part of the process. Not knowing this, we asked the hospital to insert a feeding tube so we could continue to nourish him. My father acceded to our request for this, as well as the hospital, but in the end, it served no useful purpose. The dying process was in full swing, and feeding tube or no feeding tube, my father continued to insist that he was not hungry and did not want to be fed. He did accept the electrolytes and the painkillers gracefully.
Since I did not know that he was in the dying process, I kept trying to "force" (strongly urge) him to eat, at a time when eating was furthest from his mind. I wish I knew then what I know now. It may not have changed a lot, but at least I would have been less traumatized and shocked by his passing. Had I known, I would not have insisted so forcefully that he put nutrients in his body, and would have encouraged him to eat the things that he enjoyed. Remember, he could not swallow, but he could take little bits of ice cream, for example, which he enjoyed.
At no time did my father lose his faculties or mental capacity. Whenever he was awake, he was lucid, confident and very much in control. Two days before his passing, my father was sitting on his hospital bed, laptop on his lap, teaching me his "proprietary trading method." He wanted to transfer the knowledge to someone before his passing. He was so clear and level-headed that I had no indication that the end was so near, even though he kept insisting to us that it was, and that "all parents die at some point."
Four or five hours before "the moment", my father's breathing pattern changed drastically. This happened from one moment to the next, like a light switch turning a flow of electricity on. His breathing became labored, he started to experience chills and shivering, his body began to become cold, a tingling sensation began in his feet and moved its way upwards in a slow process, then the breathing pattern changed again, changed later again, and then changed one final time.
Throughout it all, my father was very calm and dignified.
This post is not intended to frighten or spook anyone, but rather to teach about a process that very few of us know about. If, like me, you would like to make your loved one's passing that much easier, it's best to know what to expect.
The rest of the process is best explained in the link below. http://www.hospicenet.org/html/preparing_for.html