Monthly Archives: March 2012

When Death Comes Knocking

Death is the one inevitable part of life. No one can escape it; no one can outrun it. Death swoops in and takes who it will, not caring much for those left behind. Many times in life, death comes unexpectedly, touching us in ways that fill our hearts with grief, anguish, and pain. As elderly parents age, death looms closer and closer each day. The struggle is for the children to prepare for their parents’ deaths and begin to accept it.

As death nears, the body begins to shut down. Your loved one may not desire to eat or drink as much as they used to. The National Caregivers Library says, “The person’s body lets him/her know when it no longer desires or can tolerate foods or liquids. The loss of this desire is a signal that the person is making ready to leave.” It is their choice not to eat, meaning their body no longer wants food or water. This is not painful for them at this point as empty stomachs and dehydration no longer make them uncomfortable.

Your loved one may also feel that they don’t want to be around many people. They may become more introverted and seek the company of only one or two people, especially as their life nears the end. “This is a sign of preparation for release and affirms from whom the support is most needed in order to make the appropriate transition. If you are not part of this inner circle at the end, it does not mean you are not loved or are unimportant.” (Hospice)

The elderly feel weak and fatigued as they near death. This means they will sleep more, become less communicative, and may be difficult to awaken at times. As the National Caregivers Library says, “At this point, ‘being with’ is more important than ‘doing for.’ Never assume that the person cannot hear. Hearing may still remain very acute although the person may seem asleep.” Because of this you shouldn’t say anything out loud that you wouldn’t say if your loved one were actively awake. You should speak softly and naturally. Simply hearing your voice can help your loved one through this difficult time.

When the time comes that these signs are present and your loved one’s body is fading, you, as their support system, need to let go. Stewart Alsop said, “A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.” Most elderly that die of old age have lived a long, fulfilling life. Their body is preparing to die, and it is your responsibility to help them mentally by allowing yourself to say goodbye.

“A dying person will commonly try to hold on, even though it brings prolonged discomfort, in order to be assured that those left behind will be all right. A family’s ability to reassure and release the dying person from this concern is the greatest gift of love they can give at this time.” (National Caregivers Library)

Take a moment to sit with your loved one and say a personalized ‘goodbye.’ Many people who lose loved ones never get the chance to say all that they wanted to. Living with these regrets makes grieving more difficult and causes healing to take more time. Crying is a normal and natural part of saying goodbye. Don’t try to hide your tears or apologize for them. Tears show your love for the one near death, and they will help you to let go.

When death comes knocking, for it will, make sure you’re as prepared as possible to help your loved one die in peace and then to help yourself to let go and move on. Death is the one inevitable part of life, the one thing we should be able to prepare for, yet even when we think we’re prepared, we find that losing someone close to us is still painful and heartbreaking. It is natural to feel grief and sorrow, each copes with death in their own way, but in the end, we all must accept what has come and move on.

Leaving This World Alone (Loneliness among the Elderly)

James A. Froude said, “We enter the world alone, we leave the world alone.” There is no feeling more horrible than the loneliness one feels in the unsettling quiet of an empty house. For many elderly, it seems that aging accompanies loneliness as children leave and spouses pass on. Though many children devote years of their lives to care for their elderly parents, others abandon them to solitude.

A French article translates to read, “Elderly people who are deprived of the warmth of human contact are at the risk of turning inward. For the very old, an atmosphere such as this can become psychologically catastrophic and lead to depressive syndromes such as extreme sadness, a desire to do nothing, sleep problems and even dementia.”

It is easier to care for our parents when their health is deteriorating, but what about those who retain their health well into their fifties or sixties? Just as a teenager becomes preoccupied with high school social life and can often forget about the family dinner or activity, adults can become preoccupied with their jobs and families of their own and neglect their elderly parents.

Even if your parent is healthy, they may not remain so when subject to consistent loneliness. Ask yourself: How many times have I given my mother a call this past month? How often have I visited my parents this past year? How long did I stay? Long enough to have a real conversation, enjoy a dinner, or take a walk through the park?

On her blog, Judith Gelber spoke of her experience with loneliness in old age, “Among the side-effects of aging are loneliness and isolation. Friends and family die or move away. Whatever support system existed before seems in tatters. Life becomes a hard pill to swallow.”

The problem of loneliness in aging does not always fall on the children; sometimes the elderly bring loneliness upon themselves. “They’ve spent their lives looking after others as well as themselves. While they appreciate help, they still want to feel they are capable of taking care of themselves and running their own lives.” (Judith Gelber) Neighbors and others seeking to reach out are sometimes turned away for this very reason. The elderly have just as much right to keep their pride as the younger population does. Sometimes, though, the elderly can be a bit more stubborn. They’ve seen more of life, they’ve been more weathered by pains and hardships, and now they’re facing their last years alone.

Judith Gelber said, “The best help for the elderly is in the doing rather than the asking.” It’s true that some of the elderly may isolate themselves, but it does not mean that inside they are not reaching out for comfort and companionship. As Gelber said, many times actions do speak louder than words. If you are a nearby neighbor to an elderly person you could mow their lawn, shovel their walk, or bring over a warm, home-cooked meal. As a child you can simply pick up the phone and give your mother or father a call.

After everything so many of the elderly have contributed to our nation, our communities, and our families, we should give them the courtesy of friendship. There is no cure for loneliness but companionship and love. No one should have to leave this world alone.

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