It feels like not so long ago I wrote about journeying with someone to the end of their earthly life (here). Now I’m doing it again, this time, not as a pastor but as a friend.
I have known this woman for 15 years – never married, fiercely independent, deeply faithful to her church. In the past two weeks she received a terminal diagnosis and decided to enter hospice care. Because she has no family nearby (her closest relative is a niece six hours away) she named me as Power of Attorney and the representative in her Advanced Directive for Health Care (in the USA a PoA takes control of a person’s affairs when they can no longer take care of things for themselves, and the ADHC names a person to make health care decisions). So – I’ve been running around trying to find the original PoA document with the “official” seal, getting my name onto her bank accounts, talking to social workers, hunting down her safe deposit box keys, and sorting through papers that she was leaving everywhere as she was “losing control” of things. All this official-type work at the same time we were trying to find an inpatient hospice for her to live out her last days, get her transferred, and sign all THAT paperwork.
It’s disconcerting to be “in charge” of another adult human being. I think it’s made me feel more like a child. I have found myself second guessing every decision I’ve made for her so far, even though I know I’m acting in accord with her wishes. Perhaps I’m feeling insecure because it’s been so long since I’ve been on the “personal” end of a death. As a pastor I’ve seen plenty, and I know what to do and how to act. But I am NOT this woman’s pastor, I am her friend, and of course that makes things different.
I sat with her for a while today – I brought her CD player and some of her music that she loved. I brought a picture that means a lot to her, and I “think” she saw it. She has spent most of the past 24 hours sleeping, with moments where she will open her eyes, but I’m not sure how much she is taking in. Often hearing is the last sense to go, so that’s why I wanted her music to be with her. They increased her pain medication today, so I assume she’ll be sleeping more and more now, and that’s fine as long as she’s comfortable. Our number one goal is to have her be as pain-free as possible and that her death be as peaceful as possible. That’s what SHE wants, and that’s what I want too.
I’m sharing this for two reasons. First, just to share what’s going on this past week and why I haven’t posted that much, but also because I want to make sure that all of you reading this have your own affairs in order. Don’t wait till you can’t take care of yourself anymore. Have these documents I mentioned above. Let your medical wishes be known to your family and friends. And hand over control before you lose control – that will be a great gift to whoever you name to be in charge. That way they won’t have to do the running around I have had to do, and will just be able to “be” with you.
It will be hard to say goodbye to this fixture in my family’s life, but she is a woman of faith, and seems very secure in her journey towards her savior. If you’re a person of prayer, please say a little one for her, and all those who will grieve her loss. Thanks.