Monday, March 24, 2008

Will Wonders Never Cease

One day I was called to the ICU to help mediate a difficult situation. A woman, “Maggie” wanted to be taken off the ventilator. She had suffered a heart attack the week before, but her prognosis was not dire. The cardiologist was certain she could be treated with medicine following the heart catheterization that had opened a blocked artery. It was during that procedure that Maggie was put on the vent – standard for any surgeries – but for some reason when the medical staff tried to remove the vent, Maggie was not able to breathe on her own.

Maggie was lucid and clear about her intentions. She did not want to be kept alive on a vent, not even for another week to see if the medicine would start working. Her husband, a second husband and not the father of her children, was willing to abide by her wishes. One daughter was also willing to do whatever Maggie wanted.

The rest of the family, however, was desperate to keep mother alive, and that desperation was bolstered by the doctor’s opinion that it was too soon to remove the vent and “give up.”

This was a very dysfunctional family with a history of addictions and lots of unresolved issues. They all appealed to me to “talk some sense into my mother,” and I had to gently tell them that wasn’t my job. My job was to determine if Maggie fully understood her decision and then be her advocate.

On the tablet provided for her, Maggie wrote that she did understand she would die when the vent was removed and she was ready. She asked me to pray with her and for her, and continue to pray for her children after she was gone.

We held a brief prayer service and the vent was removed. I stayed with the family for about an hour, but somehow Maggie managed to hang on. I was called to another situation that took a couple of hours to resolve, and when I checked back, Maggie was still breathing.

It was the same by the end of the day, and the next day Maggie was awake, alert, and very much out of danger. The doctor was amazed. The family was amazed, and even Maggie was amazed.

More about Maggie next time.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Angry? No, I'm Not Angry

Anger is often one of the hardest emotions to deal with in the grieving process, especially when that anger is directed at the person who died. Every person who ever attended one of the grief support groups I facilitated found this the hardest emotion to talk openly about. They all said that even thinking it made them feel so guilty. “How can we be mad at someone for dying? It’s not like they did it on purpose.”

It is very normal to have this kind of anger, and if it is not expressed it can create havoc on a person’s emotional and physical well being.

I remember one woman who talked every week about her difficulty with making coffee in the mornings. She and her husband used to have coffee together every morning and now that he was gone, she just couldn’t bring herself to make the coffee. On the surface, this sounded like so many other stories of what grieving spouses could no longer do, but I sensed that there was something deeper that she was having difficulty facing. So I gently prodded her to think about how she felt about the fact that he was no longer there to share that special time. I asked if she could possibly be angry, and she was quick to say, “No.”

She also said that she was not angry that she was now solely responsible for the family, the house, the finances and the cars. Although she did say that she was disappointed that he did not make more of an effort to put some things in better order before he died. But angry? “No. I loved him. How could I be angry?”

This went on for several weeks, and I think others in the group suspected there was another layer to all of this, but they were patient, as was I.

Then one day she came to group and her whole demeanor was different. She stood straighter, had a smile, and was wearing makeup. After she sat down, she looked around the room then announced that she had finally made coffee that morning. When asked what the turning point was she said that she had a “come to Jesus” talk with her deceased husband during the night. “I told him everything,” she said. “Even how angry I am that he died and left me all alone.”

We all laughed, then hugged her.

After that, we didn’t see much of her. She came to group a few more times, but I think rounding that most difficult corner in her grief journey set her on a straighter path forward and she “outgrew” the need for a support group.

It’s amazing how that can work.