Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lessons from Mary

IMG-20120607-00041My mother-in-law passed away a few weeks ago.

I’ve written about Mary in the past. You may remember that strong, stubborn Irish woman who depleted her savings caring for her Alzheimer’s-stricken husband, or the woman whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and made a fresh start with some new friends and a few prized possessions in an assisted-living facility.

Mary was 86 when she died after a brief illness and hospitalization. Her experience taught me a few things worth sharing.

Some of your most precious belongings may be the easiest to lose.  In the transitions from assisted living to the hospital to skilled nursing, those facilities managed to lose Mary’s upper dentures, her glasses and her hearing aid.

I’ve never been arrested or put in jail, but I wonder, if I was in jail, whether someone would inventory my personal belongings and keep all my possessions intact by storing them in a plastic bag.

If I recall all the “Law and Order” episodes I’ve watched, the contents would be right there for my signature and pickup upon my release.

I wish that’s what they would have done for Mary.

Even if you have your medical power of attorney in order, someone may not honor it. When my husband, Peter, who is listed as Mary’s POA, called and asked for his mother’s medical status, hospital staff told him they couldn’t release information over the phone. The doctor would talk to Peter’s brother John, they said, who was at the New Jersey hospital in person, and then he could convey the information to Peter.

The hospital also asked John to make critical decisions like whether or not to insert a feeding tube. For the record, John’s a great guy and did a great job communicating with us and advocating for Mary. It all worked out, but what good is a power of attorney if it’s not honored?

Some physicians may not be willing to agree to hospice. Sixty hours before Mary died we asked her doctor if she was “hospice ready.” It was evident to most of us; Mary was in the process of dying. His response was “No, not at all!”

A day later they transferred Mary out of the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, where she died less than 48 hours later. Thank goodness for the nurses at the facility. They immediately suggested hospice, and once in place, Mary had medicine to reduce her pain and comfort her agitation in her final hours. And, as Peter and I flew in to be with Mary, we had kind souls to help comfort us.

In the dying process, serendipity can create some beautiful moments. Mary was very Irish and very Catholic. When my husband and I would travel to New Jersey to see her and were about to head to the airport to return home, she would get out her bottle of holy water and bless us for safe travels.

The day before Mary died, a friend from her assisted-living facility dropped by, not knowing Mary’s condition, with a palm from Palm Sunday and some holy water. It was as if God himself presented us with the blessing we could offer Mary. Peter took the holy water and blessed his mom and wished her a safe journey home.

Serendipity continued to happen.

When I cared for our neighbor Hildy in her last days I sang to her “Your Are My Sunshine.” When my dog Buddy died in my arms, I sang him the same song.

On the morning Mary died, shortly afterward we went to her retirement home to retrieve some of her belongings. We had closed her apartment door and, I am not sure why, but I stopped to listen.

The residents were singing “You Are My Sunshine.”

And serendipity carried on.

Mary always said when she died she wanted someone to open the window to “let the devil out.” The morning Mary died, the staff opened the window according to her wishes.

When my husband Peter and I arrived shortly after her death, we sat with Mary to say our own goodbyes.

It was just daybreak. In our silence we soon realized scores of birds were chirping and tweeting.

They were accompanying Mary on her journey home.


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Tags: hospice,power of attorney,serendipity,Mary Gallagher
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Categories: End-of-LifeNumber of views: 2087

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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