Being there at the end.
As I took our dog for a walk this morning I was filled with memories of my day a year ago. I was busy getting ready for a much needed weekend away with my husband, but was very aware that my Dad 's Alzheimers had progressed rapidly and he was nearing the end.
Having prepared tea I rang my Mum. She had been with my Dad in the Nursing Home all day, and had been told that he had entered his end of life stage. I rang and spoke to the Sister who was in charge of Dad's care, immediately packed an overnight bag, and headed down to be with Mum.
My Dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimers about 6 years earlier. He had remained able to move around with aids, and Mum did a fantastic job of keeping him in a routine. Eventually though he deteriorated and had a stroke. After a long stay in hospital it was obvious that Mum could no longer care for him at home. We were so lucky to find him space in St. Faith's, which is one of the Lilian Faithfull homes, run by the charity in Cheltenham.
From the moment Dad arrived the care he received was second to none. They not only cared for him, but they supported all of us. We could visit anytime of day or night and always received the warmest of welcomes.
For the first year there Dad was able to engage and enjoy the entertainment, but during the second year he became much weaker and slept more and more. Eventually he lost the ability to swallow. Despite this Dad was treated with the greatest of dignity and respect. His meals were liquidised and thickened, but arrived on the plate looking exactly as if they were a proper meal. He was still included in all the entertainment etc.
In the last few days he was no longer able to leave his bed. He had developed a cough and was very weak. The staff were so supportive, and kept Mum and I fully up to date at all times.
I arrived at my Mum's, had a cup of tea and then we drove across town to Dad. I could see immediately that he wouldn't be with us for long. Your body starts to shut down and the signs were all there. I had supported a close friend through their final weeks, and been with them at the end, so I knew exactly what to expect. On the other hand my Mum had seen people after they had died, but hadn't been with someone at the end.
It was such a privilege to not only be able to support Mum, but also be with my Dad as he ended his time here. We strongly felt then (and still do now) that he had no quality of life, and that the end was a blessing for him.
We sat by his bed and chatted. We included him in our chatter, held his hand and stroked his leg. The hours ticked by. We shed tears and laughed. We watched the clock tick past 2am then 3am, the time that Dad always stated everyone died between if they died in the night. (He had been a Policeman, so had authority on this). It tickled us that he had been wrong on that count!
Some of the changes were barely perceptible, but were there none the less. The staff popped in and out, keeping a close eye, but not intruding. They kept us supplied with tea, biscuits and some much needed sandwiches (my evening meal had been abandoned).
As we approached 4am Dad's breathing changed, and I knew that the time was near. In the last, many weeks, he hadn't opened his eyes at all, something that saddened my Mum. All of a sudden his eyes flew open, he looked straight at my Mum and he seemed to soak her in. Mum told him how lovely it was to see him, how lucky they had been to have each other for so long, and to have such a wonderful family. It was a very special few minutes indeed.
Dad then closed his eyes and took his final breath. It was so peaceful and he looked so relaxed.
We let the staff know, and they quietly checked him. We were exhausted, but in a strange way exhilarated. We knew that he was now free from pain and that dreadful disease. We knew that he had died peacefully, and we knew that for those few minutes he had been with us again.
We said our goodbyes and headed home for a few hours sleep. The following days and weeks were full of phone calls, arrangements and generally sorting things out, but I was able to cope with everything because I had been there at the end. (No, we didn't have that weekend away. I always felt it was Dad's final cheeky act; making me miss out).
I am sure you are wondering if this helped my decision to become a Celebrant and I can absolutely, hand on heart, say that it was the deciding factor. I knew when I met the Celebrant who led Dad's service that it was absolutely the job for me. I spoke at Dad's funeral. It was hard, but I was determined that I would do it and I was proud that I did).
When I meet with my clients, they are my focus and the whole meeting is about them and the person they are grieving for. However, there are times when I can absolutely reassure them, because I was there with my Dad. I've been there, and so I know what they are going through, what they have witnessed and how they are feeling.
I feel that everything I have done in my life to this point has led to where I am now, and makes me who I am as a Celebrant. For me the most important thing in the world is to be there for my clients, to support them and to help them to deliver the service of their choice. I will always go that extra mile, as I know how important that final goodbye is to everyone who attends.
I moved my Mum into a new forever house this week. I was very emotional saying goodbye to the house that had been our family home for the last 43 years, but I know that Mum will be very happy in her new pad. She is one incredible lady and I am so very proud that she is my Mum. We will be together tomorrow and will remember my Dad, just as we do every day.