What mindset must one be in, beyond a scientist or physician/researcher, to keep busy studying up on the dying process…and sharing it here? Partly out of frustration and partly out of maybe feeling I need to have some small sense of control over the matter (yes, I probably have control issues), I study away to gain some understanding over this journey.
Statistics will say that 80+% of elders over 75 years of age (trust me, I just didn’t bother to capture the source link) will have at least one chronic illness that will contribute to their death. That got me to thinking.
My dad had a stroke and died within a day or so from a second stroke while I sat with him. My mom had cancer and eventually died as the cancer and the treatments robbed her of her ability to fight. My Auntie’s husband, Felix, had a stroke and heart disease and died young ( 58 y/o; younger than me). My Auntie has dementia. She has recently struggled with Congestive Heart Failure and Osteoporosis. But, really she is relatively healthy save a bunch of broken bones that have stressed her system and will.
Why exactly is my aunt dying? She is 94.5 y/o. She started breaking those bones in June last year. Ever since then the mental decline has been rapid. But, the hip fracture on Christmas Eve may have set off something else. After the surgery she said “I can’t do this anymore. This is just too much.” She lost the will to fight and within one week she lapsed into the bedridden, I give up mode and has declined ever since.
I have attached a very interesting study on elders and the dying process, from the Journal of Royal Medicine, that touches upon the dying trajectory, the slow decline, the incremental death. And, the bereavement process for those left behind that have to watch this day after day.
This morning, after another long night of ‘this is probably it’ vigil, I am exhausted and must lay down. I cannot function. If she passes now, I have given all I could (as you have all advised me, several times over). I will capture a few hours of ‘rest’ and rejoin her. The care giver brought in help last night so she also could rest…so worn down and admittedly blue.
“The ‘dying trajectory’ may last longer, and awareness may be clouded by cognitive dysfunction. Exton-Smith found that 41% of the elderly patients in his study of dying people were delirious at the time of death5. Just as death may be different, so too may bereavement. The profound distress exhibited by many relatives of critically ill patients in general hospitals is often difficult to understand in the context of traditional models of bereavement. This may suggest that, when old people die, a more complex process is going on than bereavement when younger people die.”
“He quotes an elderly patient as saying ‘Death keeps taking little bits of me’. Her physician commented: ‘She saw that with each attack of dizziness or fainting or confusion she became a little older, a little weaker and a little more tired. She knew that for ten years or more, she had been moving step by step towards the grave.’ Nuland quotes Osler as saying: ‘These people take as long to die as they did to grow up.’ Nuland also observed that fewer than one in five people can have a peaceful end, since ‘dying is a messy business’ for which relatives are unprepared. He continues: ‘Too often, patients and their families cherish expectations that cannot be met, with the result that death is made all the more difficult by frustration and disappointment with a medical community that may be able to do no better.’ (Source and lots of more provocative information)