She mouthed the answer, “Yeah,” but she may as well have shouted it from the rooftops.  I responded, “Thank for the best gift you could ever have given me.”  She has not moved her mouth in response to anyone or anything in about a day and a half.

Her eyes have been closed most of the time.  One eye has opened on occasion, but with little evidence there was much consciousness behind it.  When I came in to be with her for a bit this time, both eyes were open.  I wasn’t absolutely sure she actually seeing me until she mouthed her response.

Her fever is stable at the moment, only a degree and a half above normal.  It has been at that level all afternoon and evening.  We will still use a Tylenol Suppository tonight to try to keep it from rising by morning.

Today was a typically busy Wednesday, in spite of what is going on here.  The Spiritual Formation group met on the deck.  I realized again just how important that two hours weekly is for helping me keep my perspective and my spiritual focus.

During that time Volunteer Elaine came and read to Mary Ann.  Shortly before the end of the group meeting, Bath Aide Zandra came.  We figured out that she had been coming to see Mary Ann twice a week for almost eight years.  No wonder she has shed some tears.  Zandra did a thorough job on Mary Ann’s bed bath, hair washing, as well as changing the bed with Mary Ann in it.  It was good that Lisa came in since she is experienced and could lend a hand.

Hospice Social Worker Kristin came by for a while.  It was helpful to have her knowledge and experience available as we talked through what is going on here.  She confirmed what I already knew, that when death comes, the Hospice Nurse will make the necessary phone calls to get all the basic tasks accomplished so that the family can focus on their notification calls.

Landscaper Sheila came by to work on the garden and waterfall, doing clean up, adding a couple of things needed.  As a gift, she put some Petunias in a huge pot on the ground at the edge of the deck.

Marilyn, a member of the Lead Staff at the church from which I retired, stopped by to spend a few minutes with Mary Ann and some time with the rest of us.  She shared a reading and prayer with us, providing some words of reassurance about the Lord’s presence with us no matter how stormy our life may be at the moment.

Pastor Mike, who will preach at Mary Ann’s funeral (why doesn’t that get any easier to say), stopped by to spend a few moments with Mary Ann, and share some time with us.  We reminisced a while since our history together goes back to 1972.  He listened to stories about Mary Ann.

Then friend Jeanne came by to spend a little time with Mary Ann.  It was a difficult time for her.  Pastor Mike was still there, so we talked together about how hard it is to handle what is going on here.

I have to say, we started out with the refrain that we don’t like this, and as time goes by we are not liking it more and more.  That is an awkward way of saying it, but you catch my drift.  It is more and more painful to go into the bedroom and look at her pretty face, immobile and helpless — at the very same time it is more and more painful to be outside of the room and not with her.

I am glad to be able to feel that pain.  I don’t want it, but it is reassuring evidence that I am still alive and still care and not in denial.  It has always struck me that when someone has a paralyzed limb, one way to check whether or not it is healing is to stick a pin in it.  If the owner of that limb jumps in pain, the arm or leg is alive — healed.

Those who have been where we are, but for a much longer time, have often commented that after a while, they just can’t feel anything any more.  They go numb.  Good news brings little joy; bad news brings little pain.  They have to insulate themselves from their own feelings.  The ups and downs have worn them down.

We are still able to feel the pain.  I can assure you it is more than a pin prick.  Because we can still feel the pain, we still get to feel the love.

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I called the Hospice Nurse when I saw Mary Ann shivering at bedtime last night.  She suggested I take her temperature, and if it was over 100 degrees, she told me to give her some Tylenol (rectally, since she can’t take oral meds any more).  Her temperature was below that.  I covered her to help with the chills and eventually they subsided.

When I got up this morning, the first thing I did was take her temperature.  When taken under the arm it is necessary to add a degree to get the actual internal temperature.  It measured 102.8 plus the added degree, 103.8.  I gave her the Tylenol and phoned the Hospice Nurse.

When Hospice Nurse Emily came over, she checked Mary Ann’s vital signs.  The fever was a little lower than earlier this morning, but not much.  Mary Ann’s blood pressure was fine, her oxygen level was fine (she is receiving oxygen), her lungs were clear, her heart rate was up some.

Nurse Emily said that her heart is beginning to work harder.  The fever is often a part of the process.  Mary Ann clearly has begun actively dying.  Emily said it this way, “Probably not today, but I could be wrong.”  She added later in the day that she expects Mary Ann to be gone by Friday based on her assessment of her condition.

Those words were very difficult to hear.  Lisa, Micah and I keep telling each other how much we just don’t like this.  It is, of course, a good thing for Mary Ann to move to the next leg of her journey, free of all the problems she has endured here.  With that said, we still don’t like it.

The good news is that Mary Ann continues to appear very comfortable.  The fever has edged down a bit.  Mary Ann is not particularly pleased when we jostle her around and poke things in her bottom, but that is just part of it.  Other than those times, she rests peacefully.  Her breathing is not labored.  Her heart rate continues to increase.  Her normal is about 60.  When Emily checked it this morning it had risen a little over 80.  The last time I took her pulse this evening it was about 100.

We have spent the day talking about the funeral, whom to call, what to do back in Northern Illinois where we both grew up and still have family and friends.  The words come out of my mouth as if we are just making funeral plans for someone.  My gut is doing flips while wearing cement overshoes.  (I have no idea what that means other than that it hurts like Hell.)

I have had to finally start thinking about the afterlife.  Hers will be great.  Mine, not so much.  I started making a list of things that I will need to do.  Discontinue Lifeline, let the Bath Aide know not to come — very many more things like that.  What will we do with Mary Ann’s clothes (I can hardly stand writing this) and when.

As I am writing this I am trying to move inches along the path of coming to terms with what is happening.  This morning, long time friend, John from KC, called and offered support.  Later today, Volunteer Coordinator Mary and Parish Nurse Margaret stopped by, brought cookies and spent a little time with Mary Ann.  She, of course, does not respond at all any more, but it is very likely that she hears what is being said to her.

Son-in-Law Denis and the girls headed back to Kentucky.  Lisa has stayed for a few more days, depending, of course, on what happens when.  Micah, Becky and Chloe spent the afternoon and evening here.

We are in a time warp.  There is no sense of what this day is in relationship to other days.  Minutes seem like hours.  Days seem like an eternity — but not long enough to be with Mary Ann.  Sometimes we wander around the house.  Sometimes we eat.  Sometimes we talk.  Sometimes we sit.

We now have all the elements of the Comfort Kit that Hospice talks about.  We have Morphine if there is respiratory distress or severe pain.  There is none so far, other than the heart pain that subsided with the oxygen and one tiny dose of the Morphine.  We have Tylenol tablets for the fever and will receive Tylenol suppositories tomorrow from Hospice.  We have Ativan tablets and will receive Ativan suppositories tomorrow.  Ativan will be used if and when the agitation hits that often comes and the dying process moves along.

I just glanced at the last few posts on this blog.  I can’t believe how fast things are moving.  There are some things that are helping us as we move through this time in all our lives.  I have probably said them before, but I just can’t remember at the moment.  One thing that helps is that there is not so much as a hint of wondering about Mary Ann’s secure connection to a wonderful future.  We don’t have the tools to form a picture of it, but we have no need to do so.  Our faith life as a family allows us to relax and accept the gift of a future given freely by a Loving God.  There is no time that we need to spend with any distress about her future.

We have a strong family with no baggage, no unfinished business to complicate the process of letting go.  We accept that we are not perfect.  I have not given Mary Ann perfect care, but there is a forgiving Lord who frees me from that guilt.  Mary Ann has an estranged Brother, whom I have promised to tell that she forgives him.  The result of all that is that we have the privilege of feeling the pain and sadness, celebrating her impending freedom, all with a peace that winds through our grief.  There will be tears, sometimes uncontrollable, but no despair. We don’t have to like it, but will will live through it, hopefully stronger than before, more compassionate, free to live meaningfully no matter what comes next.

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We are really not liking this!  The four of us, Mary Ann, Lisa, Micah and I are in limbo.  Now we know more about the landscape of limbo, at least this one, but it is still limbo.

Mary Ann has not yet begun actively dying.  Vital signs are not falling into the pattern of those dying of physical illnesses such as Cancer.  That could be comforting, especially to kids who live out of town, hoping to have time to get back when the end is near.

Of course, it is not likely to work that way with Mary Ann.  Apparently, dementia patients often don’t play by those rules.  They may have solid vital signs up to the moment they die.  When the mind precedes the heart or other organs in precipitating death, it can just happen whenever it chooses. There may be no warning.  It just goes with the territory.

I have become accustomed routinely to listening carefully when Mary Ann is sleeping or unconscious.  I listen to see if she is still breathing.  There is a new level of awareness of how easily my listening could reveal that the end has come.  Even after Hospice Nurse Emily said that, I still expect there to be more preliminary signs that the end is nearing. Many of those in the online group of spouses with Lewy Body Dementia, have described a traditional shutting down when their Loved Ones died.

When Son Micah asked if Mary Ann was now on a trajectory of probably weeks, Nurse Emily said that what has been happening suggests that that is a correct assessment of her condition.  She quickly added the disclaimer, that things could change and Mary Ann could bounce back to better health for a time.

We talked about how much of what is happening might have more to do with the medicine than the disease process itself.  Nurse Emily reviewed what has been happening in these past days, noting that Mary Ann has not had many of her pills on a regular basis.  While the meds may be having some impact, the trajectory of the decline seems pretty clearly to be the disease process bringing her to the last stage of the disease.

In responding to my request for either some form that is easier to administer or permission to drop Mary Ann’s Crestor for cholesterol, the doctor suggested discontinuing it.  He said we could crush it if we wanted to continue administering it.  The truth is, I haven’t yet tried to give her any of her night time meds.  At this point in the process, Mary Ann’s comfort is the prime issue.  Any of the meds that will help keep her comfortable, have priority.

Even food is optional.  If Mary Ann wants some thing to eat, or will take it if put to her lips, she will eat.  If she indicates she does not want the food, that is her choice to make.  If she will take water or juice, we will be sure she has all she wants.  If she will not, that’s that. When at this stage in life, the body needs very little to sustain itself.  She will know what she needs and when — and if she wants to have it.

While she would not so much as take a drink of water most of the day today, late this afternoon, whe she started moving around in bed, Daughter Lisa got her up, helped her with personal needs, and started feeding her applesauce.  She ate about a cup of applesauce followed by a small piece of ice cream pie, followed by some water.  Lisa fed her the applesauce and I fed her the pie.  She was up for a couple of hours.  We are suspecting that the Granddaughters’ activity helped stimulate her to stay present with us for such a long time. I took her in to lie down when Nurse Emily came for the family meeting.

There is absolutely no predicting how this will go.  Mary Ann is not about to follow anyone’s expectations for the path she will take.  This will happen on her terms, and no one else’s.  God’s role was making her, not telling her how and when to die.  Gratefully, God’s love for her is without limit, just as it is for the rest of us.

With that said, those of us who love her certainly are in limbo.  It is too soon to begin grieving her loss.  She is not gone.  It was sort of odd to hear Nurse Emily speak to us words that I have spoken to hundreds of others in forty years of ministry.  She urged us to work through our feelings and when we are ready, to share with Mary Ann our love for her and let her know that we will be okay when she decides she is ready to go.  It is not urging a person to die, but giving permission to go when the time comes.

Mary Ann took a few sips of water when I went in at about 11pm.  I gave her a heart med and one that helps her sleep.  She seemed to manage swallowing them.  I will be very interested to see if leaving out so many meds will affect her sleeping pattern.  I hope we can find our way to restful nights as often as possible in what time we have left together.  That would be good for both of us.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.