Since I have been having trouble gathering my thoughts and getting this day out in writing. I asked my friend C to write her story and to be a guest blogger on my blog, C was there with me that night. I wish she wasn't so she didn't have to witness this but I am so grateful that she was there or I would have been alone. She helped me make difficult decisions that night and I can't thank her enough. She accepted to write her thoughts and she felt it was good for her to get it out too. C has written it beautifully. I am hoping now that this day is out, I can get on with writing the following days.
Please give C the support you have shown me, because this was a difficult time for her also.
That Saturday night as I drove the 20mins from my home to see Vee and Max the tears did not stop. I had to pull myself together before I unloaded the car as I was there to cheer them both along. The weekend before I saw with my own eyes that the time was nearing closer. Max was so weak, so ill, so frail, at a point of no return. He was utterly miserable. He told me he was shit, smelt like shit, and looked like shit. The strain on Vee’s face was clear...I worried for the entire week how she was coping, and whether they had discussed where Max would die. It was the practicalities of dying that was at the forefront of my mind. Had they had the right conversations? How would Vee cope with those last few days, those last few hours- in her home? I wrote to Vee during the week and urged her to finalise the details. I felt like crap trying to make this point with her...in retrospect I’m glad I took the risk for the sake of my friend.
During the week proceeding Max’s death Vee asked if I could try to get a plate of Max’s favourite mussels from a belgian beer cafe as a treat for him. I went and spoke to the manager and explained the difficulty of the situation, the tragedy really, and it was agreed that they would prepare the ingredients and I could cook for Max in his own home. On that Saturday the chef gave me a lesson- they were so sweet, they had packed everything into little containers, made the broth, even chopped the coriander and garlic.
Max never got to eat that last meal. It still makes me so sad. He seemed genuinely excited when I showed him the black pot and told him that we’d be eating his favourite mussels soon. I don’t know where he found the energy to be cheered- even if it was for only a few seconds. When I arrived Vee looked stressed. Max may have been overmedicated. He was out of it. Agitated. Uncomfortable. And in a lot of pain. It would be a couple of hours before the palliative care nurses would arrive. Meanwhile I hovered in the hallway as Vee shifted and shuffled poor Max. This way, that way. Each movement agony. I cowered in the lounge room, shivering with anxiety and stress as each yelp tore my heart apart and I urged it all to be over. I could hear Vee and Max through the intercom. I felt like I was intruding, but I couldn’t stop listening to the agony in Max’s voice. It shocked me. How, how could the body still be alive when he was clearly so deliberately dying? Let go Max I willed...I just want you to be free from this pain. You don’t deserve it. Just fucking let go I wanted to scream at him.
And so we waited and waited. Max was not his normal self. He was ...already gone. He struggled with each cough. His breath shallow. He barked at Vee and that broke my heart for her...I wanted to slap him...but he was so unwell, his brain shutting down. But we didn’t know that then. That’s what it looks like when you are dying. They don’t tell you that. They don’t show you pictures of that. You are clueless.
Max’s frailty is still etched in my hands. Skin and bones. Lumps. Broken bones. No hair. Sunken eyes. Dry cracked lips. Teeth protruding. What did it do to you Max? It stripped you piece by piece. I will never forget the feel of you in my hands. I owe it to you. That photo Vee posted says it all.
After a good amount of time getting Max ‘comfortable’ the palliative nurses sat us down and basically said...he’s dying. Now. Tonight. Any minute. I watched in slow motion as Vee’s face crumpled and the world stopped as the grief took over and their words rang in our ears. Max’s platelets were no longer pooling. I knew what that meant. Internal haemorrhage possible. I understood. Where will he die? I knew that conversation. Not here. Somewhere else. Vee sobbed and sobbed. It was achingingly primal. I shook and shook. This surprised me. It was such an intense physical reaction. The time was now. After all this time, the time was now. We negotiated minute details with the nurses hoping for a reprieve. There were none. In desperation I asked, but what if he stops breathing. (Finally- my fear rose up!) And the nurses looked at me and said, well, just let it happen. Fuck.
Vee and I then did what any rational woman would do in a situation like this. We ate left over chicken schnitzel from the fridge. Life goes on you know...even if someone is dying in the next room. That is the ridiculousness of life. It’s sad and comedic in one split second.
Bit like an hour later when Vee’s family had congregated and all 6 of us went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Because it takes 6 people to boil the kettle. It was safer to stay in a group.That soothing, life-affirming cup of tea that shows you that everything will go on.
Max came out to sit with us all for a few short moments. He could barely stay upright. That would be the final family moment. The last time he’d be chatting with his guests. He remained a polite host- despite his frustration with us all. We kept talking for him...his speech was slow. We talked rubbish really- no one had given us instructions on “Conversations One Has With a Dying Person”.
I had this urge to play a Tibetan chant for Max, one that comforts me on my dark days. I thought maybe the soothing chant will help him let go. Not be afraid. It will soothe his soul. I had to say goodbye to Max. I hovered for over an hour making excuses as to why I couldn’t go. It really would be the last time I would be with him. I kissed his hot forehead. I said- Max, I’m going now. I’m so sorry we couldn’t eat those mussels. Next time. We’ll do it another time Max.
Yes, he said. Thank you C. Thank you.
I left Vee knowing that the darkest moments of her life were upon her and the Max’s life would soon end. I wished for it to be quick- it was agonising for everyone. There was no peace, no serenity like the scenes from a movie. Just pain, fear, sadness and deep regret.
My only regret was that I didn’t speak up sooner Vee- and encouraged you to get Max into a palliative care place where his pain could be managed, his aches soothed, and you could spend those last few days comforting him, holding him, talking to him and being his wife. This may have alleviated your regrets my friend, the guilt you feel now. Being a full time nurse got in the way- although he loved you more for it. Of that I am sure.
*********Thank you so much my friend x