Tuesday, 29 January 2019

(I Want to Die in my Sleep.)


There it is (still),
the knowing of impending doom,
the alarm, the dread,
the deep involuntary gasps the sighs,
the cold on every laboured breath,
the knowing that you’re going to die.

And then,
the slowing in your thumping chest,
the heartbeats skipped,
the foggèd head,
the terror when the heartbeats stop,
the horror when you know you’re dead
as you ‘wait the bliss of brainstem death.

Anna :o]

Sarah prompt at dVerse is that of HARBINGER – it sent my brain into overdrive and I thank you for lifting a writer’s block of 3½ month duration Sarah.

‘Harbingers of doom’ reminded me of my time at work – I am retired now – where eventual death of the residents’ was a constant (as death is to us all).  A small proportion of the residents had dementia, the remainder enduring mental health problems.

There is a strong belief in medical circles that all folk have a right to know they are dying, whether this knowledge is helpful or not…  In my place of work we didn’t go along with this, judging whether this should be so on the knowledge of our residents’ ability to cope with this bad news.  Some knew (instinctively) anyway and were filled with either peace or dread.

In this respect I do so remember Adrian.  He was a very nasty man and one could do nothing but dislike him.  He was (also) a person who instinctively knew that death was coming.   (It was the practice in our home that if residents had no known next-of-kin, we would sit with them constantly until death –for no-one should die alone.)  Adrian had no known NOK so I sat with him for most of the night.  He was so scared and knowing instinctively that he was dying; he became very timid and frightened.

Throughout that night I would constantly tell him I loved him, what a nice person he was and kissed him on the forehead.  He was so grateful for the attention – but gratitude was not what I sought – and would say:  Thank you pet.  (I like to think that constant staff attention brought him some sort of peace,)

Although the details were different, this is a scenario I encountered many times, even with residents who had severe dementia.    It was as if impending death suddenly gave these lovely folk insight and they were filled with terror,

On a more personal note, this occurred with my mother-in-law.  Her children (including my husband) impressed upon the medical team that she should never know (she was dying) as she would not be able to cope with it.  However a well-intentioned doctor, knowing that my mother-in-law was Catholic, decided she had a right to know – so she could receive the last rites – so took it upon her self to inform (her) she was dying.  My mother-in-law, upon receiving this information, became immediately agitated and had to be removed to a single room as she was distressing other patients.  (In fact it was a relative of one of these patients that informed of the doctor’s (I’m sure) well-intentioned catastrophic intervention.  The doctor never informed us herself.)

No-one should die in terror for a doctor’s beliefs…

Image:  courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Author:  unknown, but presumed to be Kirtap

14 comments:

Jade Li said...

It's good to know your writer's block ended with the prompt. Struggling to find words to support you after hearing what your job entails. It can't be easy no matter how many times you've been through it with the people you care for.

V J Knutson said...

Thank you for this. My mother is in longterm care and I've always wondered if the staff will feel it when she goes - the loss, I mean.

Toni Spencer said...

My mother died in her sleep after being in a nursing home for several months. I like to think those she loved came for her and took her home.

Violet Lentz said...

Say what you will but I look forward to experiencing death. I read all your back story so I know I'm different, but ….. this was a great write!

Kim Russell said...

I’m so glad your writer’s block has been lifted, Anna, and look forward to more of your poetry again. I often wonder if my mother knew that she was dying as she lost all speech with her dementia. These lines are powerful but chilling:
‘the terror when the heartbeats stop,
the horror when you know you’re dead
as you ‘wait the bliss of brainstem death.’

sarah said...

This is such a powerful poem. Your block obviously lifted with a flood! I'm so glad you're writing again.

You've tapped into a universal (I think) fear, here. Certainly it's something I look away from. The repetitions are so powerful, like a heartbeat, or a juddering breath.

I hope I have someone with me when the time comes. What an amazing act of generosity.

Frank Hubeny said...

These do seem like harbingers: "the heartbeats skipped,
the foggèd head,"

lillianthehomepoet.wordpress.com said...

Oh my goodness. I thought the poem so very powerful....and then I read your explanation which carried even more of a wallop.
I was with my mother at her death. She'd been about 10 years without my father, the love of her life. Doctors asked if we wanted to change the DNR on her....if they could give her a pacemaker.....they were ready to intervene. I held her hand, and she said very firmly, "I am so tired, Lillian." And I knew what she meant. The moment before her death, she sat bolt upright in bed with a HUGE smile on her face...and then slumped back down and she was gone. I'll never forget it. She was always lucid...no dementia. But for her, I think she was tired of waiting to be with my dad. She believed. And who knows? Perhaps she saw him at that moment.
Your poem describes death approaching, making its claim. In the end.....I always thought we all face death alone. But somehow, I don't think my mother did.
Ah....the mark of excellent writing...when it engages the reader. You have certainly done that!

brudberg said...

Your insight into death is so unique, most of us never see it, even if every minute brings us closer to our death... it's a road we are all walking, but another to really now it's close is another thing... what a terrible thing to do for a belief... for a ceremony that it's hard to believe in for me... choice is what matters.

annell4 said...

When we entered hospice, my Son and I, a social worker told me, independent people will die when no one is around. They will wait for you to leave the room. I don't know if you saw this or not? On that Friday morning, he died just before I got there. I like to believe it was his choice, he was a very independent person. Loved your poem and your notes afterwards, good to see you, I have missed your writes.

Sara McNulty said...

Oh Anna, what a powerful poem this is. Sometimes I think people realize, but still, if the family has their own wishes about it, they should be honored. So glad to see you back.

robtkistner said...

Very engaging write Anna, couldn't stop reading...

Merril D. Smtih said...

So sad and yet compelling and powerful. You have a unique perspective on this--and thank you for your compassion. My sisters and I sat at my dad's death bed. He was unconscious, and I don't know what he knew. His organs were failing, and we had chosen to disconnect him, but we waited till dawn and sat a vigil over him all night. He fought death so hard, and twenty years later, I still remember it.


I'm glad this prompt broke your writer's block.

rallentanda said...

This is a very thought provoking poem. I have a lovely bedroom, and pillows . It is a kind of world to me as I do almost all of my writing in bed. It would be a wonderful to die in my own bed. A Catholic does not have to have a priest present at their death to attain salvation. Making a genune act of contrition is all that is needed.I think it is wonderful that you gave comfort to the poor man dying alone. It is a privilege to be able to comfort the dying
" By your fruits thou shall be known" - Matthew 8