Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I am no stranger to death. I have lost a brother, father, aunts and uncles. Having done farmsteading, I have lost many wonderful animal friends: horses, goats, dogs, cows, chickens, cats, ducks and more. But, it is a little different when death comes home. This story is about Irene, my mother-in-law. She is not dead, yet.

Irene has lived with us for over two years. We moved back to Maine from upstate New York in 2005 and she moved in with us in 2006. She is 77 years old, had COPD and emphysema. In the spring of ’06 she was hospitalized for pneumonia. We discovered at that time that she was anemic, dehydrated, suffered weight loss and was not actively taking her medication. This, to our embarrassment was not at all obvious in our weekend visits. Basically, she could no longer care for herself. She had been living alone in a senior apartment, her husband having died many years earlier.

Irene is on oxygen 24/7 and she needed constant care and she could no longer self medicate. Being the only one in the family with someone home all day, my wife works as a legal transcriptionist over the internet, we decided that she would live with us. Since that time she has gone from being hospitalized several times a year for pneumonia to only once. About six months ago she had a bad cold and into the hospital she went. She almost never came out. It was very close. But, she did recover and back home she came. All has been well for some time.

A few weeks back she had a sudden problem with breathing. At 3:30am the ambulance came. Tests showed that one lung, which was operating at minimal capacity, had collapsed, for good. It was also discovered that she had two shadows on her lung, mesothelioma. Treatment for this would either kill her, or make her hospital bound for the rest of her life. There was no more that could really be done at the hospital. She qualified for hospice, meaning her life expectancy was less than six months. She is now back home with us. Hospice has given us an array of drugs to keep her pain free and they call and visit at least once a week. They are really great and very supportive. Irene will die here, at home.

But you know, this woman is tough. She does not know that she is under Hospice care; she does not want to know. She is comfortable, alert and still a joy to have around. Her day is spent mostly in bed, but she does sit at her table at meal time. The drugs we give her are minimal because she is not in constant pain. Occasionally, she gets real short of breath and will take medication that helps. However, we know that death is here, waiting. Irene has not given up. She is planning her 80th birthday party. Despite the prognosis, she may just make it. We can hope, eh? So, death may have to bide its time.

I will keep you posted on Irene. Not so much for you, but for me. After all, she is the mother of my wife, and that makes her special!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can only hope and pray that when Dr. Death taps my shoulder, letting me know "it is time," that I have earned the respect and loving care of family enough to be able to pass on indignity and in the company of precious loved ones.

Prayers to you, Deb, and Irene. Death, when done right, with love and without fear, can be a glorious spiritual experience for those left behind, and the opening of an amazing new journey for the one who lifts off this planet.