Who is the One Really Suffering

relax and breathe

Rose was in the last stage of dying. She lived in a memory care facility and was dying from Alzheimer’s disease. At the end-stage of this disease, people generally stop eating, and then drinking, and a natural sedation occurs. With good mouth care, repositioning, and small amounts of medication for symptoms, such as pain or difficulty breathing, they can be kept very comfortable. I stopped by to check on Rose and found Sharon, her daughter, sitting by Rose’s bedside. When Sharon saw me, she cried out, “This is torture, watching my mother suffer like this!” I moved to the foot of Rose’s bed, and scanned her face and body for signs of discomfort. Her face was relaxed with no furrows or lines, though she was very thin and fragile-looking. Her breathing was slow and quiet. To me, Rose looked very comfortable and peaceful. I told Sharon I didn’t think her mother was suffering. It was Sharon who was suffering, sitting there hour after hour, waiting for her mother to die. I asked her if she felt she had to be there when her mother passed, and she said she did. She had given instructions to the staff to call her every time there was a change in her mother’s condition. They did, and Sharon had been rushing over at all hours of the day and night. She was exhausted. I discussed with Sharon the possibility that  she was really the one who was in pain and that maybe she needed to give her mother some space so she could go. Sharon took my advice and started taking breaks from constantly sitting with her mother. When Sharon left that night, she told the caregivers to call only if her mother died. This provided the room they both needed. As it turned out, Sharon was with Rose when she died two days later, but she was no longer worried that her mom was suffering. They both were relaxed and ready to say good-bye.