My mother died during this pandemic. When I drove away in tears at Christmas, I knew in my heart that I might never see her again. Little did I know it would be because of the lockdown.
Like many families here and in the United Kingdom, my brother and I could not be there to comfort her in her final days. Her caregivers had become like family, but she wanted us there. As a hospice nurse, I have been present for the deaths of my patients, friends and family, but, this time, it was impossible and hard to accept.
I know many of us have had to endure the grief of not being present. It reinforces the importance of being there when you can, and never leaving anything unsaid. We were there so much last year and, with modern technology, were very involved from a distance. Although I live here, my brother was able to rely on me to coordinate our mother’s care in Scotland, and that was true until the end.
Before she died, her doctor visited and called to consult me about treatment. It was an easy decision, as he had met with us two years ago to discuss her advance care plan. He remembered the visit and had the records. She had emphasized that she wanted to die at home and without “tubes and pipes.” He told me her decline was likely because of the coronavirus. This was how it presented in the frail elderly, and it was widespread in the community.
So we made the decision not to hospitalize and to provide palliative care. She died peacefully at home on National Health Care Decisions Day in the USA. I hope her story will encourage others to talk to their loved ones about what they would want at end of life. It can be a gift for your family.
We found many silver linings in the midst of our grief and I hope others can, too. She rallied on Easter Sunday and it was a blessing to hear her voice. Her final words were asking about us, hoping we were all OK. Smart phones have really helped us to feel closer when we are caring from a distance. They also facilitate telehealth, and health care providers are able to stay connected to patients while in-person visits are more risky.
She touched many lives in her 94 years, so it was distressing that we could not have a traditional church funeral to celebrate her life and grieve together. Restrictions were in place and the local ministers were quarantined. So my brother and I arranged the funeral and we were all more involved. We made videos of our tributes, planned the music and her grandchildren made a video tribute from photos and a memorial website.
The funeral was webcast from the chapel. The few who were allowed to be there were distanced and masked. However, there were many others watching the live webcast from different countries and states, followed by a family gathering on Zoom. The grandchildren, extended family and friends, who might not have been able to go to the funeral anyway, were able to be part of this virtual celebration of her life.
My hospice experience helped my mother and my family navigate the stormy waters of the past five months.
All over West Virginia, hospices are helping people like our family to ensure patients’ wishes are honored and to make the end of life meaningful. They are reaching out in new ways, using telehealth now to support and counsel families during serious illness and bereavement. Hospice helps improve quality of life for as long as possible and also ensures a peaceful, comfortable death when the time comes.
The pandemic has created more anxiety and grief for those with serious illness and their families, and some have been brought suddenly to the brink of death by the virus. It’s never too soon to talk to your doctor about your end-of-life preferences.
My mother volunteered for her community hospice and believed in it as I do. She would tell you not to wait to contact hospice. Learn more at www.hospicewv.org.