Saturday, December 13, 2008

It harder when it's someone you know...

I don't know why that is. I have seen quite a few deaths - some peaceful and calm, some brutal and violent, The family is often there, their grief and anger raw and exposed. Yet it hasn't seemed to bother me. I felt emotionally distant, a detached observer.

Just today, though, I had a reminder of how hard it is when it's someone you know. Our neighbor, Alberta, up the dirt road, the sweetest, little old lady in the world, just recently had congestive heart failure spring up out of nowhere due to some medication problems from another condition. I have been to their house three times with the fire department and once while working the ambulance. Whenever I've heard their address over the radio, my heart dropped.

The most recent time, she was feeling weak and faint but was coherent and talking, but still she went to the hospital to be sure. I hadn't heard anything in a week or two - Thanksgiving got in the way - so we stopped by yesterday check in on them. We met her son there who said, "She's in the nursing home now. I don't think she'll be coming home." He didn't sound as if this was too serious. This was not too surprising as she is in her 80's and quite frail.

We called later that night to speak to the husband, Phil, and offer him a ride to the nursing home, about 30 minutes away. I had not thought he would, but he accepted our offer, but also saying in the phone conversation, "I don't know, Rick. She's terminal..." What? She was fine just a little while ago.

So we didn't know what to expect when we got to the nursing home, one that I go to on a regular basis with the ambulance service. Phil had made some rather ominous comments about her going to be with God soon, so we were rather apprehensive.

Unfortunately, it was as bad as we feared. Other family gathered there took us aside, and as Phil sat down, held her hand, and stoked her hair in a private moment, they told us that there was nothing to be done. They were just waiting for the end. She was basically comatose and was not receiving food or water at this point.

As usual, the time was taken up with the telling of stories, recent and past, of Alberta. Everyone kept it lighthearted and positive as possible. Joan and I were doing fine, trying to ignore the horrible reality in the room, something that we all will face in different ways at different times.

However, when it was time to go, and we went over to the bedside to take Alberta's hand to say goodbye, we both kind of lost it. It felt strange and guilty to show such grief over someone we do not know well, in front of her family, but what can you do? They've had the time to come to terms with this, and we were still unsettled by the whole thing.

As an adult, I have not yet had to deal with the death of a close family member. I am not looking forward to, but I hope I only hope I can be a gracious and strong as Phil.

Post script: The next day, I received a phone call from Alberta's son that she had passed away in the early morning. We will be going to her funeral service on Thursday.

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