Life Matters Media
Start the most difficult conversation American isn’t having- the conversation about our end of life preferences

A Special Update: Catherine’s Journey

Noreen Burke Coussens, Elder Guide, Ltd.

JUNE 2017 – As Catherine’s story unfolded….

Catherine’s health began to decline. Wounds were not healing due to poor circulation; her overall stamina was decreasing.  Every action became an effort.  Catherine and I had a follow-up discussion. I had explained to her that her heart, the body’s engine, was not working well, thus causing her shortness of breath, weakness and lack of energy.  Catherine admitted that she had hoped to live to 100, but then added, “well, I guess we all have to go sometime.”  

I had a long conversation about “TLC” care. Never using the word, “hospice,” I described the pampering services that would be provided. Catherine said this sounded good. After several discussions with family and Catherine’s medical team, she was admitted to hospice care.  She never moved from her room, and she had more people checking in than ever before.  Family visits provided a sense of “wrapping things up” and acknowledgement of how much Catherine loved each family member. They, in turn, acknowledged the unique role she had in each of their lives.  

I was able to reassure Catherine that her life was one that was meaningful and well lived. I shared my belief that when her time came, she would be reunited with her parents. At one point, Catherine acknowledged looking forward to this: peace.

Catherine had a few rough days, but attention was quickly provided and comfort was regained. In the end, Catherine was with family members, comfortable and at peace. Her wish, her prayer, answered.

I am humbled by being a part of such a beautiful story.  

FEBRUARY 2017 – Catherine and I were discussing her health.

At 95+, she is fairly stable. Her vital organs are functioning, not like that of a 20 year old, but she is getting along. We proceeded to the topic of end of life. Catherine talked about her brother’s sudden and unexpected death. He ate a large meal and had a massive heart attack. Catherine said it was hard to accept, and yet the doctor was not very surprised based on Gus’ medical history.

“So, if you could choose, how do you hope your life plays out?”

“I want to just go in my sleep.”

Doesn’t everyone? Just not wake up seems to be a theme for the elderly, no fuss, no bother. And why not? They have lived longer than they ever thought and their goals have either been achieved or are no longer achievable.

What Catherine said next struck me.

“I am afraid that when the time comes, and the doctors know that I won’t live much longer, they’ll just put me in a room, alone, to die. This is my biggest fear.”

After reassuring Catherine that as her care manager, I would not allow this to happen; I began to describe what many of my clients have experienced at the end of life. She would not be left alone in a room. She would have care, probably care that would feel like pampering. She would be allowed to rest when she is tired and engage in life when she had energy. Catherine’s needs, however large or small, would be met.

“Thank you, I feel better that we talked about this. It has been something that has bothered me for quite a while. Now, can we plan a trip to the mall?”

Prior to working with Catherine, I was told by her family that she would never discuss her wishes regarding death and the care leading up to her death. She would simply change the subject. Was Catherine resistant to share this fear with loved ones because of their potential reaction? Was the fear so deep that she couldn’t verbalize it, adding further fear that it might become her reality? I do not know the answer to these questions.

“I am afraid that when the time comes, and the doctors know that I won’t live much longer, they’ll just put me in a room, alone, to die. This is my biggest fear.”

What I do know is that her fear is now known to me.

I will do everything possible to offer continued reassurance until the time comes, when my words become action so that Catherine will live her final days in comfort surrounded by those she loves and those who will care for her.

How many other Catherines are among us?

– Image courtesy Public Domain Pictures