Living in the Face of Death

Living in the face of death is an idea that some are willing to talk and write about openly. I am one who thinks we benefit from doing both--living and talking/writing. Dying is going to happen to each of us. No one knows when, where or how. But die we will. And knowing that is a way of being that helps me live more mindfully in the time I have left in my conscious state, however long that might be. I hope it is long enough for me to write all that I want to write. A novel for starters. More about that another time.

How do I live in the face of death? It is a question that I ask myself more consciously every day since I witnessed my husband's dying over nine years ago. Before he died, he took a precipitous fall into anxiety and depression. Finally the doctor diagnosed Lewy Body Dementia. He lived for six more years, daily moving along his plateaus and dips further down until he reached his place of release. He also suffered from parkinsonism, which caused his body to feel to me as if it were in constant muscular tension. So I witnessed his dying over a long period, and finally when he died, I raised up his hand and felt the utter limpness of it and said out loud to myself, "He made it! He found his peace." And that gave me peace, too.

I have been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, which is thought now to be on a continuum with Lewy Body Dementia. I take my medicine--there's a story in that, too--and devote myself to a weekly exercise program that helps me stay as strong as I can be at this stage, and I lose myself in my writing. On this cool sunny Saturday morning I am faced with a friend's slow dying. She is my neighbor, directly across the hall from my apartment in a continuing care retirement community. We both live in the independent living section of the community, which I thought was the predominant section when I moved in over a year and a half ago. Though independents are the majority in number, those in assisted living or on the nursing pavilion seem to be more on my mind as I witness more and more independents going to live "on the second floor." I have witnessed B's decline over the past few months. She is, I think, only ninety or ninety-one, in comparison to several whom I know in their very late nineties. She is thin and frail, has suffered and recovered from several broken bones, has difficulty walking and balancing, uses a three-wheel walker when she does get out, and is now suffering from heart problems, especially atrial fibrillation. She is a dear sweet person who likes to talk about her family and her late husband. And we share being Democrats in a community that is majority Republican. Need I say more about that in 2014? That is not why I am blogging about dying this morning.

My neighbor is in distress early today. It is after 7:00 a.m. now, but she must have punched her lifeline pendant because someone from Security came with a nurse to see about B. I have been in and out and up and down our hall doing my laundry, because I chose Saturday morning 7-10 a.m. as my time to reserve the laundry room, and I have been keeping my eyes and ears open to their going in to check on her. I did ask the Security person if there was anything I could do and he said the nurse was with her. I half expect an ambulance to be called, as often happens in these situations, but that has not happened yet. Maybe it won't happen at all today for B. I hope it won't happen, because I know how much she doesn't like to be taken to the hospital.I was thinking about B this morning already when I got up at 5 a.m. and looked out into the hall to check newspapers. I am not supposed to get one on Saturday and Sunday, and I have no paper. Good. But there is B's paper hanging on her door as usual. She is still asleep, at least has not yet gotten her paper, as she used to do regularly. Now a personal care aide takes her paper in to her when she comes to help B for an hour each morning. That is a change in activities since B has been having to stay in, not go to the dining room, go to the doctor several days each week, taken by one of her many family members who check in on her often.

And so the morning will go. I will go to do the other load of washing and put my washed load in the dryer, eat breakfast while I wait for the wash to finish so I can dry the other load. Then I will go to the greenhouse to water orchids with M, who is also a dear woman, still very active. She must be in her mid to late 80s. She is a role model for me. She exercises regularly in the class before mine, in the fitness room. She can still get down on the floor and get up off it. I can't do that; at least I don't feel like I should try it without a physical therapist to guide me through what I would need to do to accomplish that. Maybe I will ask for a few more sessions of PT to get me through that next stage of my healing.

For now I am thankful to be able to sit here at my computer, write, look out at the sunny day arriving, hear birds sing in trees outside my glass-enclosed balcony, wonder what is happening behind B's closed door. I didn't hear voices the last time I opened my own door to check the hall. So I hope B is being taken care of in response to her call, and I hope I will be able to see her and talk with her later today, in-between my writing sessions. And so I think that is what today is going to be like. Keep going and find out.

Let's be friends

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