Saturday, September 12, 2009

Working it out while I sleep

I woke this morning from a nightmare. I haven't had one in a while but my dreams and nightmares are stories and I can usually, if I take the time, figure out what it is my subconscious is working out. Sometimes it doesn't seem so much like I'm working out a thing as reliving a trauma and this may have been both but was definitely the latter.

My mother died a couple of weeks ago at 11:20 p.m., and I felt grateful to be with her at the moment of her death, after a few days of being companion and advocate, along with my sister, as she made her way towards the end. I mean to write about that but as yet have felt too tender to do it.

One year before my mother died, on the same day, August 28, I was present at another death. A former neighbor had called me to say he'd returned to town to die. His cancer was quite advanced. He wondered if I would visit once in a while and have tea and chat with him. Easy enough. I made strawberry muffins and brought my teapot and tea along too.

A few weeks later he asked if I could help more often and I said that I would. His best friend works out of town a lot and it was at his urging that this new arrangement was made. The friend left town on a Sunday and on Monday my former neighbor, who had been out of touch with me for five years, asked me to help him get registered with Hospice. We did this.

I began doing some laundry, making sure he had meals on wheels and other food, cooking a little for him and joining him now and then for breakfast. I'd drive him on errands too. This was not hard for me. What became difficult was the fact that not only was he dying but he was unable to allow Hospice to be in charge of controlling his pain. He had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and a stash of drugs he'd collected from different docs in different towns. He asked me to come into his therapy session and we talked about that. The therapist said he had a right to his stash. The problem was, he tinkered with his meds, which had been painstakingly doled out in containers by Hospice to help keep him calmer and pain free. One day he'd be relatively comfortable and the next hour or day he'd be in great pain and pacing or saying the same thing over and over "why doesn't Hospice want my pain to go away?" They'd raised his fentanyl patches from 25 mg to 50 to 75 to 150 in about a week.

Sadly I went one day to take him to therapy and found him disoriented, meds laid out in little piles everywhere, including a slightly fuzzy pile that had obviously been in his mouth and spit out. And he'd taken off his patches and all the extras were gone. Hospice speculated that he'd sucked the meds out of them for a quicker hit. His OCD was out of control and I told him I was doing my best to stay with him but I really needed him to calm down and stop asking, over and over, why Hospice, or I, did not want him to have pain relief. Because, indeed, that was our main goal in helping him: to keep him comfortable.

I suggested we leave early for his appointment, go by my bank, get money and go pay my house cleaner, then stop at the beach until it was time for his appointment. I just wanted to help him focus on anything other than the sensation that his pain was a constant ten and nothing was helping. Hospice told me over the phone that more patches would be delivered but not to leave them in the apartment and that they might have to let him go off their program as he was not cooperating and was the most difficult patient they'd ever dealt with to date.

He agreed to my suggested outing before the appointment and I gathered my purse and a few things and was standing waiting for him to come with me. He paced from the bathroom to the bedroom three times and when I asked if he was ready, he said: "Just a minute. I have to change my pants before we go." He walked from the bathroom to the bedroom and closed the door and then I heard a gunshot. I was on the phone talking to his friend Mark at that moment and I screamed and ran from the apartment. I thought if he had not succeeded he might be staggering out of the bedroom shooting. And if he had succeeded I was not going in there to see it.

I ran from his place to another in the complex, as far away as possible, and asked for help. That neighbor walked me to another neighbor, who took me in and called 911. Officers came, asked me if he had a gun and I told them I was pretty sure it was a gun. I said " sounded like a firecracker but it wasn't a firecracker." I remember the officer in charge was looking directly into my eyes and I recognized him and the others around him were like a blurry blue cloud. They efficiently and bravely went up to his place, warned the closest neighbor to stay down and burst through his door and found him, dead. Another officer was interviewing me. I was, I'm sure, in shock. I had not known that he had a gun. I was surrounded by loving, caring, supportive people and it has still been a tough year absorbing this event and healing from the fear. At first on my daily walks I feared strangers I saw, sure that they had guns concealed in their jackets or coats. I don't have that reaction now.

But deep in the subconscious it's still getting worked out. So this nightmare is part of that and is partly about losing my mother, too. I dreamed I was walking across a field, past a soccer game and to a house with three intact sides and an open front. All the people in the house were people I knew, including family members, but none were at their current age. Except for Dr. Krieher, the elder care doc at Hershey Medical Center who tried to evaluate Mom and help us understand what was going to be happening with her. She was in the center of the open house, directing people in their packing and leaving preparations. For some reason I left the house and was walking towards the youthful soccer game when a man passed me, walking towards the house, and he was carrying a gun, moving with obvious purpose. I turned to watch him and he walked straight in and raised the gun to Dr. K, who shouted out to me "Call 911. Tell them Paul did it." In the dream I did that, then the soccer teams and I fell to the ground to avoid gunfire and the police came and apprehended the man. But the man was not my brother-in-law Paul. It was Mike, the former neighbor who committed suicide a year ago. Paul, though, while I was with the family after Mom's death, told a story about shooting a great many crows, randomly, when he was young, so I think that's how he squeaked into the dream.

Maybe all the people in the house were people dying or preparng to die. Maybe I turned away and towards youth/vitality/life as a healthy instinct to embrace life. Maybe my quick response to the Docs cries was a reminder that I do what needs doing even when things are terrifying. Maybe it had to do with feeling overwhelmed by death right now. My neighbor Ray died, then two months later my eldest cat Lisa died, and a couple of days after that Ray's wife, my friend Marjorie, died. I was at her side twenty minutes before she passed away. It's all been very sad and a lot of death in two months. Then Mom's passing was a deep, intense experience and happened to come on the same day as Mike's suicide. And the day after I got home from her funeral there was a funeral for a man I'd been in a band with a couple of years ago. I'm kind of spent. And I'm grateful on more levels than I have the energy to describe. Grateful for friends, for the kindness of strangers in that apartment complex, for the resiliency to heal and go on with joy and hope.

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