My dear friend Teresa died yesterday from complications of a rare form of cancer. She knew she was dying and totally prepared for the event. I was fortunate in being able to see her before I left on my trip to South America in early March. I was one of the few of her friends that saw her in her last days before her doctor prohibited such visits due to her weakened condition. Our friendship was unusual in that we rarely saw each other but for some reason that I can’t explain, there was just this underlying like and appreciation for each other. Unlike myself, her life path had included a very healthy marriage with children and grandchildren that loved her very much.
During my visit with Teresa, she recounted a near-death experience she’d had several years ago, where, during a heart attack and treatment in the hospital she essentially died on the operating table. During this episode, she sensed her soul floating up to the ceiling of the operating room, hovering over her body where she could see the doctors and nurses working to revive her. She was aware of what they were saying as well. I could appreciate what she was telling me, although never experiencing an out of body experience, I have spoken to souls after they’ve passed on. So there was no issue in my believing her story. She also told me about seeing the most magnificent light as she travelled very fast through a tunnel of time and experienced what she believed was God. She was told that it was not her time and she needed to return to the Earthly plane.
When she returned to her body, the doctors had no rational explanation. Her heart seemed fine and she fully recovered. But Teresa knew in her heart, excuse the expression that she was merely being given time to prepare her family for her eventual passing. However, she was also angry with God for sending her back. She felt such love that she really wanted to stay in that other spiritual dimension. For the last two years she’s really been in a preparation mode planning her funeral her last days being happy with her family knowing full well that she would leave. Thus, when the diagnosis came of cancer it came quickly without much warning but she was ready.
Teresa and her husband had gone on trips that had many happy days and she was ready; so, in her words “Don’t Cry For Me because I’m going to be okay as I know what it looks like on the other side and my departed family are there and I am looking forward to being there too. I know my family will be okay here; they will miss me but they will be okay.” So when the call came last night from the rabbi’s wife that my dear friend had departed yesterday morning, part of me was glad that her suffering was over.
I will try not to cry for you. You were a good friend and I will miss you.
I can tell that it’s almost time to say goodbye to my beautiful girl; my precious Judas that has been with me since I first laid eyes on her almost 18 years ago when she was a little red tabby kitten. I found Judas with her brother, whom I eventually named Hercules, and several other litter mates playing in my backyard one summer day. These little babies were so cute, but fortune was to give me just the two. The others went different ways. Hercules and Judas were named for being brave and for being sneaky. The names just popped into my head as I played with them over the summer until they became friendlier and lost some of their original feral behavior.
And the years passed. Hercules was part of the family for almost 17 years when he succumbed to chronic renal failure last April. Judas, on the other hand, has hardly ever been ill, or even needed to go to the Vet other than for routine visits. She’s been such a good girl over these many years. Right from the beginning, she looked towards me for protection. I remember once when her brother was picking on her and she jumped into my lap and wagged her tail as if to say, “Ha, now you can’t get me!” Even now, she comes to tell me when she wants more food or when her pain is getting intolerable.
You see, Judas has been diagnosed with a kind of cancer of the mouth. It all started in early December when one of her big teeth fell out. I didn’t think much of it; I took her to the vet, got antibiotic, came home and let her eat what she wanted. She didn’t seem to lose her appetite even though without her big front tooth it was more difficult to eat. But the empty space didn’t heal; in fact, the whole got bigger… a lot bigger. By the time I went back to the Vet about 4 weeks later, several more teeth fell out and there was a huge hole in her mouth. That’s when I was told of the diagnosis – squamous cell carcinoma or oral cancer. In addition, the left eye was shifting. There’s something called a third eye lid that can come down. Sometimes it shifts back by itself, but not in this case. Because the cancer is eating away at the jaw bone, the eye socket is weakening and the eye is literally shifting. Poor Judas can barely see out of that eye. Ok, so one eye is enough right?
Well yes, but I’m also told that there’s lots of pain this this type of cancer, so I’ve been giving Judas lots of pain meds…. Very expensive pain meds I might add. Of course, she’s worth it, but I started to wonder if the medication was just covering up a cat that was ready to let go and I was keeping her here. Much like putting someone on pain meds to keep them alive in the hospital when their bodies are racked with cancer. Wow… it’s the same thing.
Like many pet owners who adore their fur babies, I spent many hours researching this disease on the internet, ordering supplements, Chinese medicine and any nutritional concoction that might help Judas. I set up a vitamin container that I got from the local pharmacy, the kind with multiple bins for each day with flip lids so that I could prepare a week’s worth of her regimen at a time. For the last few weeks, Judas seemed to be stable and I was very happy… and perhaps a bit proud. I was going to beat this thing. Beat death? Denial? Yeah, I guess so. For in the end, the Chinese medicine billed to stop bleeding did so for a few days, but the bleeding is back today with a vengeance.
I thought I might get another month for Judas, but as of tonight I’m not so sure. She’s had a good life. She’s been loved as much or more than is possible to love anyone or anything and she’s loved me in return unconditionally. Up until a few days ago she was still jumping on the bed and sleeping next to me. Now she’s staying closer to her little beddy although she still can walk around the house. I knew that when the right time came I would know and I’m starting to feel that it may be time to say good-bye.
Ever feel like sleeping all day? Sometimes it’s just a matter of being tired and needing more sleep. Other times we may really be sick and our bodies may actually need rest to rejuvenate. These are all possibilities. Another one is that you’re depressed.
When you don’t feel quite like yourself, (who else could you feel like?), you might well want to avoid contact with other people and prefer to stay by yourself. I see this behavior in my cat Judas when she’s upset about something. A cat, you say, well, yes. Cats are very sensitive creatures and my Judas is particularly so. When her brother Hercules crossed over in April, Judas’ behavior changed dramatically. Whereas before, she wandered around the house, sat on different chairs in different rooms or in the sun by the front door, she would hide in the closet or just sleep in her little bed. Mostly she started to just sleep. This has been the beginning of what I’d call her grieving stage for her brother Hercules. She’s depressed over his loss. I can really tell. For her, sleeping is a way of getting away from the world as she knows it and simply checking out. Sometimes she stands in the middle of the living room floor and just screams at the top of her lungs. I find this her way of asking, “So where is my buddy Hercules?” How many of us would like to do the same thing when stuff happens in our lives or when someone dear to us departs? It all seems so unfair. One reaction is to try to unhook from our daily activities.
Honestly, there are lots of events besides the loss of a loved one that can cause situational depression. This is a term that captures the symptoms of depression a person exhibits due to circumstances occurring within their world or environment; a caveat to this is that the behavior is not normal for them otherwise. Thus, the situation causes them to feel depressed rather than actually being depressed. I’m not a psychologist so I don’t diagnose, nor treat depression, but I can certainly tell when my friends that are normally pretty happy get upset about something in their lives; they may even need to take medication for awhile, but this doesn’t label them as depressed people.
Then there are people who have given up on life and are in assisted living. These people really are depressed AND they sleep all day. When I visit my hospice clients as a volunteer, they all take lots of naps. In addition, when they’re not sleeping, they have a tendency to be physically present, but appear to be mentally checked out. Thus even when they are awake, it’s not the kind of awake that you or I are used to. Sometimes I chat with them, but little gets through to their comprehension. And, in return, they will tell me something like it’s important but the words formed from their mouths are garbled versions of what their brain has conceptualized. It’s all quite sad.
So, when I look at all this sleeping going on, is it just a momentary depression or a real depression? For Judas, she got up a little while ago and came to visit me! So there’s hope for her. She seems to be coming out of her depression. I tell her that I miss Hercules too and we can help each other. Having friends provides companionship and a sense of community. Pets need people and people need other people. That’s why I visit depressed people in the hospice. It’s so that they aren’t alone for that period of time. Perhaps it will help them to not be so depressed.
It’s truely amazing how we are cared for when we care for others. Here’s a true story of my Hospice visitation experience.
Volunteering for Hospice is a noble accomplishment. Actually putting the time on the calendar and adding the activity into my appointment allocation is another. In any case, I decided that I would ear mark Thursdays from 1-3pm and just mark the time off. If I didn’t do that, it would be too easy to allow other things to take precedent and then I’d never get to the Hospice visitations.
The initial training went well as did my first supervised session with actual Hospice patients. These are individuals, whom doctors have indicated may die within six months, thus they are entitled to care by Hospice facilities. The payment arrangements are beyond me, since I’m a volunteer. All I know if that during my father’s last few weeks, he had Hospice personnel visiting him. In addition, my mother went to a Hospice-sponsored support group after he died. I decided that it was a good idea for me to give back to an organization that not only helped my own parents, but one which I might need at some point in the future.
So now I’m actually going on my own to two nursing homes and assisted living centers that house Hospice patients. I was assigned to two dementia patients and one breast cancer patients. With the dementia patients, they can hardly communicate. During the few times that they do, their words are so jumbled that it is very difficult to understand. Yet, I still feel good when interacting with them. Last time one thought that I was taking him “home” not realizing that he wouldn’t see home again. I did my best to explain that he was going to spend the night “here” which produced a very surprised look even though this person had resided at the facility for a number of months. The other dementia patient just smiled and occasionally looked in my eyes as gibberish came out of her mouth. Not really knowing what else to do, I merely told her stories of my cats and what was going on with my day. She continued to smile with wide-eyes. The third patient is very talkative and although gets off track now and then, she’s pretty coherent and loves to tell me stories of her life. She’s the breast cancer patient. I’m not supposed to ask about her illness, but I’d love to know how she can look so good and maintain such a positive attitude, yet be on a six-month to live list. She’s really amazing.
Today, the first dementia patient was in the hospital. It happens. The second one was sleeping and couldn’t be roused. Oh well. And the third was as talkative as ever. I had to be so careful not to let tears come to my eyes as she pointed to the three generations that follow her – her daughter, granddaughter and five-year old great granddaughter. She lost her son many years ago to AIDS. I didn’t ask any questions about that one either. She was very proud of her son whatever his profession was.
So I’m just a person who tries to help, keeping a few people who don’t have much time left on earth company. That’s the Hospice belief. That no one should die alone. And, as I left my cancer patient, the skies opened up to a torrential downpour while I didn’t have an umbrella with me. As I approached the front door, a nurse was holding a huge umbrella, almost as if she was waiting for me. “Could you walk me to my car?” I asked. “Yes, of course” she replied. There she was just as I need her to prevent me from getting soaking wet. I thanked her. Then, once inside my car, I quietly said, “thanks” to the powers to be, since I knew that I was being cared for as I was in the midst of caring for others.
Inspirational memoir capturing a love that extends beyond the veil of death, of care-giving, of the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease as well as a widow's restructuring her life after the only man she ever loved was gone. Buy safely via PayPal