Monday, March 28, 2005

It's all about Personal Connection

I go to this career counsellor, been doing it for over 3 years and it really helps. One of her big repeat lessons is that things are accomplished with Personal Connection. If you want to become a teacher, then talk to a teacher, you probably have a friend who teaches, or a friend with a kid who has a teacher or you could go back to your old high school where presumably they still keep the odd teacher around despite all the cutbacks. After 3 years with her I believe. It works! Truly.

So it's odd to me that I fully missed a personal connection for myself. Not in terms of something I wanted to do or learn but more...well, you'll see.

My great aunt thinks we killed my grandmother. After my grandmother died she wrote down the name of the drug we used (morphine, to dull the pain from the final stages of the congestive heart failure, also we allowed the hospital to use it, there was no druig adminstered by the family) and kept it in her pocket for a long time, she may still have it there. Every little while she'd whip the paper out and check it, usually while telling us, "I've got it right here, I'm telling the doctors not to let you kill me! No..." (consults paper) "Mohfeen." (She's from Maine.)

You can't really blame her. She is/was 11 months younger than my grandmother. She had never lived a day on this earth without Grammy Fern. She'd come to live with Grammy and Grampa when Grampa got sick a couple of years before and she'd never left for more than a day or 2 since and in that last year not even for that long. When my grandmother was told that her kidneys were failing and that time would be short just around Thanksgiving her sister made her promise to stay until Christmas.

I got called on the 8th of December, I believe. I arrived on the 9th. At noon on the 10th Grammy died.

While my grandmother was a great proponent of telling the truth I have to say that I've learned in retrospect that she was not above yessing you just to make you feel better.

Like my mother, Aunt Rena doesn't like to be yessed. She was mad, she was sad, she was paranoid, she yelled, she hit, she threatened, she stomped, she cried, she packed. It was a strange experience and has made me increasingly wary of her. Though this happened in 2000 she still had a major freak out 2 summers ago when my mom and I visited. Accused us of backstabbing the uncle and his family, came storming into our bedrooms late at night, it was awful. So I wasn't terribly inclined to declare her cured. But my mother sees her fairly frequently and talks to her every week and has said that she's doing much better, being kinder and more understanding and hardly has the screaming mimis anymore.

Imagine my surprise when I talked to my mom last night and mom said, "I just called Rena again, she was in good spirits. I spoke to her last night but she was angry saying that she couldn't trust me or [the uncle] to take care of her and she was glad that she had spoken up when she was in the hospital."

"She was in the hospital?"

"A long while ago."

"Oh right, I knew about that. Why do you think she's bringing it up now?"

"Oh I think it's the Terry Schiavo case."

Well, duh! How could I not have made that connection? Because denial is my pageant-talent and I'm a regional champ!

My mom's side of the family is pretty pro DNR and no extraordinary measures. Rena stands out like a flamingo in the duck pond. She doesn't believe that there is anything after death and she doesn't want to go where there is nothing. Her doctors thought she'd have passed away at least 2 years ago, she's had cancer, she's broken bones, she's got congestive heart failure but she doesn't want to go and she isn't going to if she doesn't want to. That's her choice and I am both impressed and frightened by her ability to stick by it.

Obviously I can't speak for her but I think I know why she's anti DNR and pro extraordinary measures. She's always been the caretaker for the the dying in her faimly and she's never been the decision maker. She never married and she was the younger sibling. Her father died when she was a baby so she never met him. When her mother became ill Rena cared for her but Grammy Fern made the decisions.

After Grammy died I drove Rena back to the house and she told me 2 stories about her mother. The first one was about the day of the family reunion when Grammy Allen probably had a stroke. Rena didn't know what to do but to wait for Fern and John to pick them up. When they came Rena wanted to take Grammy Allen to the doctor but John told her there wasn't anything they could do and they loaded Rena's insensible and drooling mother, a woman previously of some dignity, into a wheelchair and sat her in a corner at the reunion then drove her and Rena home and left Rena to take care of her. The night that Grammy Allen died Rena lay in the bed they shared spooning her mother and counting her breaths. In 2000 she told me this story as though it had happened the night before. She counted 4 in then 4 out, 4 in, 4 out, then a pause, 4 in, 4 out, pause and the pause just got longer and longer and finally she died. No one who made the decision was there to see the result and the person who stayed to the very end wasn't able to make the decision.

My grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia shortly before his death. He chose neither to get treatment nor to tell most of his family, including his only daughter. Rena took care of him.

The uncle asked my grandmother what she wanted to do after her short timer's license was issued and she said, "Keep on trucking." No treatment, no changes in her life and she didn't tell anyone else, either. (Is it any wonder I have a big thing about the people I love being open and honest?) Rena took care of her.

While we sat in the hospital room listen to my grandmother's tortured breathing Rena kept repeating that her sister had promised to stay until Christmas. When everyone else went to the cafeteria I held my grandmother's cold hand and told her that if she needed to go she should go. I was naive enough to think she needed permission or cared what any of us thought she ought to do. Just not her style.

I still don't agree with Rena. I wouldn't have kept my grandmother alive any longer. By the time I got there she was pretty well gone and I know that she wanted to go naturally. But I do agree with Rena's anger. How anyone could make a decision to let a loved one go and not see it through I don't understand. It is sadly typical of my grandmother and grandfather to have made a decision like that and not to have owned up to the uglier parts of it. To leave Rena alone as the caretaker despite her differing opinion. They weren't bad people but I wouldn't describe them as warm or sentimental. And maybe she didn't tell them how she felt. You have to admire her, too, for continuing to care for the people who put her through some of the more traumatic events in her memory.

I have not read every word written about Ms. Terry Schiavo, nor have I been anywhere near her family but, if what I have read is true, her husband, having made the decision to let her go according to her wishes, is staying with her while she dies. I find that right and admirable and I hope that people are able to see the honor in the way he stuck by his beliefs. I'm just sorry that it's making my very old, very frightened Aunt Rena so angry again.

I am grateful to both sides of the Schindler/Schiavo case for speaking out on their beliefs. It seems clear to me that we need to make our wishes known, not just to the person who we ask to carry them out but to anyone who will listen. I am grateful to the friends who have discussed the case with me and shared their thoughts and wishes with me, too. Despite the historic longevity of my family members I am an only child who remains single while she pushes forty so I rely heavily on my friends to carry out my wishes and they have unstintingly agreed.

Tell people what you want. Write it down. Do an interpretive dance on the subject. Sing a song. Paint a picture. Carve your desires in stone. We need to know what you wish.

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