Families that take care of dying loved ones in their homes, go through such extraordinary things. We expect illness and dying to affect us physically, but often we don’t anticipate the loss of dignity. It is left to the family members to muddle through the hard things; helping a mother eat, helping a father button his shirt.
Today as I met with a family who had brought their mother to our hospice house for the last days of her life, I was reminded of how tough it is to be caregiver and child at the same time. Each sibling spoke of separate moments that they each had, when that final line of humility was crossed. For the daughters, their moments came in assisting their mother to shower. A modest and proud woman who hid her protruding mass from family for years as it slowly grew and then opened, she wept with the daughters as they apologetically helped her shower. They admitted their surprise at the effects cancer had on her body, but more how sorry they were that she was humiliated to need help from them.
Her son had been spared such intimate tasks for as long as possible, until one morning it was only he that was present. His mother’s bed was wet, she shivered, needing dry clothes and sheets. Like his sisters before, he cried as he attempted to change her, her modestly and discomfort obvious as her dignity ebbed.
These are the things we forget, when we ask how things are going at home. Is it not enough, patients must wonder, to endure the physical changes of dying and have to lose dignity as well?
To take care of a dying loved one is an extraordinary thing, often a hard thing, and always a gift that must not be taken for granted.