I am phoning the Hospice folks tomorrow (Sunday) to begin the application process for Hospice.  When we asked in a way that she could respond yes or no, Mary Ann said yes.  The kids both agree wholeheartedly.  I have grieved my way through to agreeing.

It seems none too soon.  I can’t believe how much Mary Ann appears to have declined in just the last three or four days.  She slept through the entire time I was gone, either in bed or in her chair with her head down.  She had been sleeping like that before I left.  She is seldom responsive, but can on occasion be lucid for a while. All of a sudden in the last three days, her hands have swollen and are stuck in a clench, which could become hand contractures, something our daughter saw often in the nursing home context.

Mary Ann was at the table with us during the entire conversation about Hospice, and the decision about the possibility of a Do Not Resuscitate order.  She had her head down but her eyes open.  The kids were sitting closest to her and I was across from her.  We worked hard to get responses from her at various times.  I explained that acceptance by Hospice would imply that we are on about a six month trajectory.  I added that if she was doing better she could “graduate” from Hospice for a time.  She responded in a way that seemed to indicate she was tracking with what I was saying.  She said a distinct yes, for all three of us to hear.

What is most comforting to me and, I am sure, to Mary Ann is that should she qualify for Hospice Care, she will be able to stay at home to the very end.  We both dread hospital stays so much; that alone was enough to seal the deal.  Of course, there still could be need for hospital care, but since Hospice can administer IV’s at home, it is far less likely there will be any need to do so.

I talked about the DNR option.  After explaining it and the reasoning for it, I asked her first thoughts on it.  Again she said, yes.  I told her that I would check back with her another time to be sure.

Since, a decade or two ago, Mary Ann already had tearfully wished she had gotten something she could die from rather than the long protracted decline of a disease like Parkinson’s, the DNR did not bring resistance but agreement.

Speaking of tears!  I have encouraged people, men and women alike, to celebrate the ability to cry as a powerful gift from God.  I have told people that it is a sign of strength and not of weakness.  At the same time I was proud of myself that in my adult life I could count on one hand the times I had cried out loud, sort of denying my own counsel.  Well, I am now, a few weeks short of my 67th birthday, giving up counting.

Last night in the cabin at the retreat center in Oklahoma, I could no longer hold it in.  I have ministered to people for forty years.  I have watched die and done funerals for people that I genuinely cared about.  I refused to become clinical and treat funerals and the people grieving at them as just a part of a job.  I risked becoming vulnerable enough to care about them.  I buried babies, and teenagers and young adults, parent of young children, people of all ages and circumstance.  I felt the pain and cared about how they were feeling.  I ministered to people and preached at the funerals and never broke down (except once in an inconspicuous moment after preaching at the funeral of one of my best friends).  I cannot describe to you just how different it is to think about watching Mary Ann go through what I have seen far too many times in these forty years.

I want this process to stop right now.  I am not willing to lose her — but I can’t do a damn thing about it!  There is no where to which to run to get away from it.  I have a very ugly and very loud cry.  I guess not having practiced it more, I never really learned how to do it well.  I warned the kids tonight and asked them to explain to their children that they might see their Grandpa crying out loud, but not to be afraid.  I wanted them to know that it is all right, even healthy to cry, to let their emotions show.

I spent the evening the night before last talking with friend John.  I just spewed it all out, the good, the bad and the ugly.  I can trust John with the worst of it.  He can listen without judgment and never give advice.  He had gone through a shorter version of this when his wife died of Cancer — shorter, but no less devastating.  He had some very tough challenges as a single parent immediately after Sherrie’s death.  I shared a struggle with anger toward someone in Mary Ann’s closest circle who hurt her deeply.  That evening, that person and that deed’s power to turn me into someone I don’t like was lifted from my shoulders, better said, my gut.

So much is happening so fast.  This is all I will write for now.  More will follow.

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