Of Life and Death

By Laraine L. Thompson

Knowing that our peas did not grow as well as they might have last year because the ground lacked proper drainage, we took pains this year to prepare the soil more carefully. We tilled the earth, added a fertilizer amendment and finally added an agent that would allow the ground to drain more readily. We inoculated our peas and soaked them in water in preparation for planting. They are planted and I anxiously await the little signs of green that will indicate that our preparations were not in vain.

At the same time we are preparing for the new life of our garden, we find ourselves facing the death of an elderly loved one. The introduction of the subject of death may seem a strange juxtaposition here. However, it has occurred to me that just as we needed to properly prepare the earth to accept and grow our planted seeds, we also need to properly prepare ourselves for the end of life.

When my mother died several years ago, I lacked the understanding I needed to recognize the signs of her imminent death. I misunderstood that like, countless before her, she was, if ever so unconsciously, preparing to die. I took personally her withdrawal from society, her detachment from all that she seemed to formerly love. We tried to cheer her up, to encourage her to re-engage in countless ways. Of course, it did no good.  And sadly, we didn’t speak of death with her at all.  It was only in reading the Hospice literature supplied to us after her death that I realized what she, along with us, had been experiencing.

Again, with our loved one now, we are facing a similar situation. And, like my mother, the same symptoms of impending death are presenting themselves. And I find myself remembering with great gratitude the words that I read in that literature supplied to my by an organization I have grown to admire very greatly—The Hospice Society.

The Hospice Society is again guiding us through our present preparation for the death of our loved one. Knowing what to expect has given us comfort, thus sparing us unnecessary frustration. Though there may be slight variations, there are almost always these milestones along the way:

One to Three Months Prior to Death

  • Withdrawal from society, even family and friends
  • Decrease in appetite or refusal to eat at all
  • Increase in sleep

One to Two Weeks Prior to Death

Mental Changes

  • Further increase in sleep, non-responsive
  • Disorientation, delusional behavior
  • Seeing, speaking to those unseen. The veil is thinning.
  • Agitation

Physical Changes

  • Body temperature may drop
  • Blood pressure lowers
  • Pulse becomes irregular
  • Skin color changes
  • Breathing becomes irregular, often accompanied by congestion which may cause rattled breathing
  • Speech and communication is slowed

The Journey Ends

  • Energy surge, desire for food, urge to talk—usually of very short duration
  • Previous signs become much more pronounced
  • Breathing irregularities increase dramatically, slow, rapid, shallow, complete cessation and beginning again, “death rattle” is more prominent
  • Skin color changes dramatically
  • Eyes may be open or semi-shut
  • Hearing is believed to be the last sense to leave, so talking with loved one is believed to be comforting to them. Often a loved one will be reluctant to leave until given permission to do so
  • Breathing stops. Death has occurred.

For us, as members of the church, death is an important part of life. Most of the time, as it is now for us, it is a step in a natural progression of events. But, like our gardens, it becomes an easier journey when we prepare the soil of our hearts, our minds, and our spirits properly. When we are prepared, when we know what to expect, the so-called harvest of our good-byes can be more abundant, far sweeter, more meaningful than they otherwise would be were we to remain in ignorance.

Photo source: LDS Media Library

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