18 December 2006

In Memory of Wanda Meeks 1920-2006

In Memory of Wanda Meeks 1920-2006

On 26th November of this year, my grandmother, Wanda Meeks(the surname of her late lover)-Flowers-Garrison(her maiden surname)died in a Reno, Nevada rest home at the age of 86.

Those of you who regularly read this blog have already seen my eulogy to her here.

The following was written and sent to me to-day by my sister Debra, who was present when our grandmother died, as she'd been throughout the entire process, and, yes, am biased here, I find it to be a very moving description of the process of witnessing the passing on of one individual by another.

So, am posting it here, in its entirety and unedited, for your perusal.

May whatever passing you have, whether it be from one plane of existence to another, as some believe, or into a great darkness, as others, including myself, believe, be as surrounded by love as my grandmother's was.

The text follows immediately below.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Donald Rilea, 18th December, 2006.

Post-Script: The term "Baha< found towards the piece's end stands for "Baha'ii" and for "Bahalluah", which are, respectively, the religion in which my sister Debra believes, and its founder.

In Memory of Wanda Meeks 1920-2006

My grandmother passed away Saturday, November 26, 2006. This is the story of the journey we took together in the last week of her life.

I am sitting, once again, at the bedside of my grandmother. She is unconscious, not asleep. Gone from her is an ability to express awareness of self, both in her internal and external worlds. I am lost to what she may be thinking, feeling, hearing, smelling or even if she is experiencing any of the sensations of the physical world. Frankly, I hope not. My hope is that she is close enough to the life of the spirit that she is free from this room and all that happens here.

Today is Thanksgiving Day and I pray for her sweet release. What holds her here? I ask myself silently. I ask her out loud. The answers can only come from my imagination. Sure I like to think intuition but really what do I know about this seemingly frail woman?

First, while she is clearly helpless and looks frail- she is anything but, after all it's Thursday and she is still here. On Sunday, at 7:15am, I got a call from a nurse here saying that she'd taken a decidedly bad turn and had had a difficult night. She was on oxygen and the nurse's tone was ominous. I prepare quickly to come over. I am thinking I need to take the Bible. This summer Norma shared with me that Grandma liked religion. Now I realize, I haven't a clue what to read from the Bible and the only one I can think to call this early in the morning is Lee. She helps with some suggestions from her pastor- those guys are accustom to calls this early. Then I call Norma, is it ok to encourage her to move on? What are the names of her siblings? Parents? How can I not know any of this? Armed with a list I go to Grandma's side. The vigil begins.

Later in the day, family members are called, consultations were held and decisions are made to say good-bye from as distance. Good choices, I think more strongly with each passing day, with every hour spent here in this depressing room, I am grateful that my mother and sister are not here. It would torment them, the endless waiting, the helplessness and frustration.

I stroke her forehead and hair gently like I've seen my mother do, she seemed to like it. I've learned not to stroke her anywhere else, she doesn't like it, although she can no longer pull away from my touch like she did earlier in the week. I tell Grandma about each living family member who loves her, then I tell her of all the loved ones waiting for her. At first I had to read their names from the notes I hastily made on Sunday, now I recite them from memory. "Go to the light," I say, maybe plead. "Don't be afraid, your loved ones are waiting for you."

Sitting here I read the Bible, mostly Psalms. Both of these things seem to calm her, she moans less and then stops. Eventually, with too many hours I begin reading at the start of the New Testament, the Gospel according to St. Matthew. This is clearly an act of the desperate and I am back to Psalms before the end of Matthew. Grandma doesn't seem to mind.
On Monday, the nurse was direct with me saying, "You understand this is the end." Not really a question there. "Have you made arrangements?" Ah, the question. "No," the answer. "Uh, I mean, I know she wanted to be cremated, her daughter, my mom, said so. Any suggestions?" She brings me a list of four places. "Thanks." Bewildered I wonder how does one comparison shop for these services?

I call Norma, the urgency of the nurse and other staff propelling me forward. With each change of shift, they act surprised often exclaiming out loud, "Wanda, you're still here?" And then tell me how strong she is. Uh-huh, got that. I am annoyed with this reminder, I pray for her to let go, to be free of this life. Norma can not call to make arrangements on Tuesday, work. Ok, I'll call. Calling the first business on the list I get a price, what does this include, what does this not include, I ask, searching for the hidden costs. I can not imagine doing this three more times today between my massage clients so I finally ask straight up, "Look, you know your business better than I, fortunately, will ever know it- how do your prices compare to others in town?" Joanne assures me that they are one of the best prices in town. Good enough, I say and we open a file for Meeks, Wanda.

Her next of kin needs to sign the paperwork; I am not next of kin. Another round of phone calls to Norma, sorry darling. She asks if this price is correct, she is expecting significantly more expense. Ok, more calls. Yes, the price is right. I am informed that there is a price war in town among the mortuaries. Who knew? Later my sister Beth and I will use dark humor to laugh and ease our tensions… What a two for one special?

Finally it is arranged. Now I go back to the waiting and I notice that she is still receiving hydration and nutrition. Why? Since nurses keep insisting that I understand she is dying and arrangements must be made. So I ask, is this unnecessarily prolonging her life? No… well… she would pass sooner without it… but, no, it makes her comfortable. I look at her, it's Tuesday, this is comfortable? A soft moan with every breath, I stroke and comfort her and settle into reading Psalms, she quiets.

As I sit here, I feel immense compassion for my mom, Norma. When Grandma first fell ill and had stopped eating, Norma was faced with choosing, give her water? It's the right thing to do, they said. Now, you should consider a feeding tube. Again, the subtle pressure, the not-so-subtle pressure, the conflicting opinions- how can one make that choice for someone else's life?

It's Wednesday, "Hello, Grandma, its Debbie, Norma and Barney's daughter." My usual greeting, hoping she may have a glimmer in her state of who I am as I stroke her head. I tell her of her loved ones here and gone. Assure her of their love and God's too, of His infinite mercy and love. We have a routine.

The usual efficient, professional staff has taken care of her physical needs with amazing proficiency. They talk her, me too, through every procedure. I am aware she still has the feeding tube attached but it is not turned on. The C.N.A. tells me that we can have the feedings stopped but the L.P.N., Manny, told Norma, "that wouldn't be nice to Wanda."

Someone dressed differently, definitely not a C.N.A., L.P.N. or R.N. stops by. She is carrying an atomizer. I listen, mostly in stunned disbelieve, as she says it is lavender Aromatherapy, "per Doctor's order." What?! I scream inside my head. As soon as she leaves I call Bob, you'll never believe this one, I tell him. He groans. This doctor is intent on "comfort care" and we know the feeding tube will stay to the end. About 4pm it is turned on. Arrrggghh.

No more Psalms I protest out loud and begin singing every Bah<'R song I can remember. Many are sung in rounds, so I feel silly but continue. Then the Bah<'R Prayer book, nearly cover to cover. It is the small prayer book.

I notice that I count her respiration per minute with every visit- 26, 28, 34, 26. The C.N.A. takes her vitals- temperature, pulse (always they say, a good strong pulse- at this point, what is good about that?), blood pressure. "They look good," she says. "Damn!" is my first thought. "But her breathing is bad," she quickly follows, "she'll go soon." Strange comfort in a strange place.

And now it is Thursday and she has made it through yet another night and most of another day. I do not notice much change from this morning or even from yesterday. I feel morbid and wrong as I hope and pray for her inevitable death to arrive soon and watch for sign of a rapid decline. Beth calls- hooray- I appreciate the distraction and her camaraderie on this unhappy journey. I am able to tell her, like Bob; the crazy thoughts that go through my head, they've both been there, the thoughts aren't so crazy.

Soon I must leave to have dinner with Bob and Lexie. They have both been so supportive and kind as I disappear for hours that stretch into days now. Yes, her breathing is definitely shallower, I think. Should I leave? Maybe I should stay… is the end really near? There is no possible way to know I come to realize and I continue to debate. Stay? Go? She breathes on, this frail one. I go.

Friday morning, the feeding apparatus is turned on. I am mostly resigned to this insane process, as I can not change it. Still, occasionally, I feel a flicker of anger because I know and they know what an incredible tough, strong woman she is and this could go on for what feels like forever. Bastards! I wonder, what could they do, really, if I just turned it off? Maybe they could get that aromatherapy back in here for the both of us.

Days are starting to blend one into another as this continues on… was it Tuesday I last saw her open her eyes or Wednesday? I also realize that it doesn't matter how many hours I am here, odds are I will be getting that call that says, "She's dead." So I remind her that she is loved, never alone and her loved ones, friends and family are waiting. Off to work I go.

I am so tired, it's Friday night and Beth says its ok to stay home. Funny how grateful I feel for her "permission" to not go back tonight. Later I talk to Renee and she tells me that she went Friday night and I feel even more grateful. Renee had asked if there was anything she could do to help and I said, yes, it helps to know someone else is sitting with her.

It's Saturday morning; I overslept and find myself dragging my feet getting over here. But I am here now. By Thursday, or was it Wednesday, Grandma had a harder time clearing her mouth of saliva and now part of our routine includes helping her clear her mouth, drying her face. Once again, looking for any changes, I notice the saliva seems to be frothy? Breathing more shallow? Less respirations?

The damned feeding machine is on. Sigh. This morning as I worried about the feeding, I decided to pull a rune stone. It read in part, "This is not a situation in which you can make your influence felt. Patience is the counsel offered…wait on the will of heaven." Clear enough, said Bob, we wait.

I sit and read the 23rd Psalms. I look up; there is a trickle of blood coming from corner of her mouth. I go to wipe it and discover this is not a trickle! At this moment I develop a deeper understanding of Bob's aversion to all things red and although I don't know it yet this alters my eating habits, perhaps for a lifetime. Somewhere in here Beth has called, she is trapped in a prison, created at her conception, of family tragedy and pain. I can not comfort her. I tell her to wait a minute as I hurry to the nurse. "She needs your assistance." She flys down the hall to Grandma's room. I follow in pursuit, Beth on hold in my pocket. It's 10:15am. I tell Beth that I will call her back snapping the phone shut. The nurse removes the feeding tube. She checks her pulse. There is a flurry of activity as the nurse leaves and returns with someone else. Then someone else arrives. Soon there are six professionals in the room. Um, guys, she's not breathing, I think. They reposition her. Joe, the R.N., checks her heart beat. She still has a heart beat and a carotid pulse, weak but there. Uh, but guys, she doesn't look like she's breathing. Joe tells me how strong she is. To avoid screaming at him, I roll my eyes nearly to the back of my head and say, "Yes but it is serving her at this point." I step by all these people and stroke her forehead. "Let go, baby, just let go." Suddenly, I notice, we are alone again, just Grandma and me. Bob will later explain that most likely they all left because their training is to save people's lives not to ease them off into the next. And every fiber of their beings screamed at them, "Do something!" With nothing to do, they retreated.

I go through our practiced routine of who loves her, who is waiting for her, God's love and mercy to embrace her. Don't be afraid. I assure her. She is not breathing. Still I sit and read the next Psalms she liked that speaks of Gods' forgiveness. She is not breathing. I wait. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. I check her carotid pulse. Nothing. Her check is cool to my touch and she is no longer perspiring. I unplug the bedside fan that has cooled her for many a long day and night. Once more I sit at her side, I read a Bah<'R prayer for the departed then go for the nurse. She tells me that Joe, the R.N. must come and check her and he has been called. She seems shaken and tells me that she thinks Grandma waited for me be with her to pass. She says just sit here and talk to her. I look in Grandma's face. She is not here.

As I stand and wait on Joe, I call Beth. She is gone, I say. My dear Beth, still reeling with a searing, blinding pain perhaps intensified by the new loss and grief, is inconsolable and I can not believe what escapes my mouth, "Well she is in a life review right now and maybe she will come to realize the pain and suffering she caused you." Oh God, did I just say that? Later in the day Beth will apologize, did I? We decide that Beth will call our Mom. Good, better than hearing it from the nurses first. I hang up. I call Bob. He is comforting, but I really am doing ok. Joe comes, it is official, he hears nothing with his stethoscope pressed against her chest. It is 10:45. The oxygen machine is turned off and the room is silent. The nurse removes the nasal cannula and gently wipes Grandma's face. She says I can stay as long as I want.

Formalities follow. Arrangements? Truckee Meadows Cremation and Burial. Yes, they have a signed release. Do you what to be here when they come? Huh? No, she's gone. Are you ok? Yes, greatly relieved, she's free. Strange looks from all the nurses. We can't reach your mother. Here I'll call her. Norma is concerned, am I ok? Yes, I assure her. The nurses ask me about her personal belongings? Clothes are donated. I pack a few family pictures and some papers from a drawer into a plastic bag and walk out. This is what her life is reduce to, a few belongings in a plastic bag?

No, I think as I exit the outside door and the cold November air hits my face and fills my starving lungs with fresh air. I gulp breath after breath. I notice that the strange heavy sensation that I have felt for the last ten days (starting three days before the nurse called) is gone and I can breath freely again. I know she is truly gone, she has "…abandoned the physical garment and have ascended to the spiritual world…" I laugh and cry with joy at her sweet, sweet release. "You go, Grandma!" I shout to the heavens with both my arms raised high.

Psalms 23

The Lord is my sheered; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

A Bah<'R Prayer for the Departed

O my God! O thou forgiver of sins, bestower of gifts, dispeller of afflictions! Verily, I beseech thee to forgive the sins of such as have abandoned the physical garment and have ascended to the spiritual world.

O my Lord! Purify them from trespasses, dispel their sorrows, and change their darkness into light. Cause them to enter the garden of happiness, cleanse them with the most pure water, and grant them to behold Thy splendors on the loftiest mount.

-'Abdu'l- Bah<