This is the problem when one tries to be a caretaker to a dying family member: it’s not possible.
A caretaker’s job is to make the dying person as comfortable as possible while he fades. A family member’s job is to try to accept that death is on its way and prepare to welcome it as much as possible. As a caretaker you are charged with his body; as a family member you are charged with his soul.
When you try to do both, then the idea of comfort is replaced perforce by the idea of survival. When your father is dying, as E.S.’s is downstairs, it is out of human ken to remember, as you hold the bucket when he starts vomiting bile, that you’re not trying to keep him alive. Every act, every moment becomes therefore about wringing one more second of life out of the disaster in front of you. And if that’s what you’re doing then it’s categorically impossible to prepare for death. You can either fight it or accept it. You can’t do both. This is one reason people put terminally ill family members in hospice.
Adding to the impossibility of playing both roles to somebody is the fact that it becomes ever more difficult to try to compass the life fading in front of you, because when he loses control of his bladder or his bowels and you have to clean up the mess you are filled with hot, savage resentment.
Also, you suck at being a caretaker. You weren’t trained for this; you’ve never done it before. Half the time all you succeed in doing is putting him in more pain than he already felt.
And having a health-care worker stop by once a day doesn’t count as hospice.
I have known these things for a long, long time, having grown up with a mother who was dying of juvenile diabetes before she even bore me. E.S. realized these things. I think, fairly soon after his parents moved in with us..
But his mother has not. I have brought to bear every blandishment of which I can conceive, but to no avail.
I understand the impulse; really, I do. I’m just worried that Mrs. S. is robbing herself of something that would otherwise be a great comfort to her, now and hereafter.
She’s going to need all the comfort she can get.