One of the positive parts of being a family caregiver is the opportunity for emotional growth. We can develop increased compassion, patience and tolerance, as well as humor. Yes, we often shed tears over our loved one’s illness and often over our feelings of powerlessness. But humor may be the saving grace that keeps us from drowning in sorrow.
Some situations, of course, leave no room for laughter. But some tough times can offer moments of levity if we choose to recognize them. My sister, Beth, and I experienced what to some people may be a rather macabre situation during the three days our mother was going through the death process. If we hadn’t maintained our senses of humor, I’m not sure how we would have handled those sad, seemingly endless days.
Mom had lived in a fine nursing home for over seven years, most of which were spent in a private room. Our dad also had a private room in the same nursing home. During the last months of Dad’s life, they moved into a shared room so that they could be together when, predictably, Dad’s life came to an end. After Dad died, Mom acquired a new roommate named Mavis. Mavis had Alzheimer’s. Within a day of moving in to Mom’s room, Mavis had decided she “loved” Mom. While the same may not be said about Mom’s feelings for Mavis, Mom did admit that Mavis wasn’t a bad roommate and could be amusing.
During our visits to Mom, Beth and I made a point to talk to Mavis and include her when we could. We also gave her a few items of Mom’s that Mavis liked and Mom no longer cared about. Mom had begun giving up on life even before Dad died, but after his death she truly felt there was no reason to go on. It took five months for her body to get the message that she’d suffered long enough, but one day the nurse prepared us for the fact that Mom was dying.
Slowly, Mom’s body was slipping into death. She was comatose. Her extremities were mottling and, though her heart kept beating, she was completely unresponsive. Beth and I kept vigil over the three day period that Mom went through the final death process. We stayed with her, held her hand, talked with her.
“Is she dead yet?”
During this time, the nursing home staff tried their best to divert Mavis and keep her from Mom’s room during the day, but, alas, the room also belonged to Mavis. And Mavis was quick. She was also sneaky. So, on the first day of our death vigil, as Beth and I spoke soft words of goodbye to Mom, Mavis suddenly popped her head around the dividing curtain and hollered, “Is she dead yet?” She then sighed, shook her little gray head and quietly murmured “I loved her so.” Beth and I were startled to say the least.
A staff member scooted in right on Mavis’ heels. Red faced, she quickly apologized and led Mavis away. However, it wasn’t too long before Mavis again popped her head around the curtain and loudly inquired, “Is she dead yet?” Again, the question was followed by a tender “I loved her so.” What could we do but laugh? We didn’t want to mock Mavis, and we certainly didn’t take our mother’s death lightly, but the whole scene felt like a sitcom.