Sunsets (2-22-2009)

~The sunset is no less beautiful than the sunrise~     

      This week my Great Aunt Evonah passed away. I have no doubt that her suffering has ended and she is at peace with God, and that knowledge gives me great comfort. She was an amazing woman who’s life is really a testament to the power of love. She had a true gift for loving others unconditionally. When her daughter Katherine married my Uncle she instantly accepted me and gathered me to her. I was family now, and I was loved. It was as simple as that. When I lost both my grandmothers, she filled that role in my life. She never missed an opportunity to tell me how proud she was of me and her praise always came with sparkling eyes and a beaming smile. She supported me when I was a stay at home mother reminding me of the importance of my job. She approved when I open my own bookkeeping business and allowed me to help with her finances when it became a task she could no longer do, but was unwilling to admit it to her children. She was especially proud to know that I had chosen to enter nursing, which had been her profession as well. Later I had the opportunity to care for her after her stroke and I so appreciated being able to give back some of the love she had given me.

      Evonah has been living in a memory care facility for the last couple of years and has been fighting pneumonia and cellulitis for some time now. This last year she had become quite withdrawn but she did have some beautiful moments of clarity that the family has been so grateful for. The hospice nurses explained everything to my Aunt Katherine and her brother Keith and in accordance with my Great Aunt’s wishes the decision was made to put her on comfort measures only. The fact that she was not living in a skilled nursing facility made things somewhat more difficult but the transition was made. My Aunt Katherine called me early Wednesday morning explaining that she had a very difficult night and asking for my help. Hospice had not been available during the night and she and Keith felt very scared not knowing how to care for their mother. The staff at the facility did not have an RN available and the CNA’s weren’t able to advise her on the medical issues she was facing. I went right over and was able to answer her many questions and she calmed down significantly. When hospice arrived later that morning their answers were basically the same as mine had been which was confirmation for me that my advice had been correct. The hospice nurse felt that she would probably only live another day or so. I left that afternoon to pack an overnight bag and go to the hospital to gather my preclinical data for the patient I would have at clinicals the next morning. I planned on doing my patient paperwork during the night while still being available in case the previous nights events reoccured. When I arrived Keith had gone home to take a quick shower and Katherine was wiping her mother down with ice cold washcloths to help bring down her fever of nearly 104. We succeeded in bringing down her temperature and getting her to rest more comfortably. My Aunt’s friend came by and offered to take her out for a coffee break. She hesitated, but knowing Keith was due back soon, she aquiesced and assured me she would be back shortly. After she left I lowered the lights ensured the environment was calm and quiet and that Evonah was comfortable. 

In less than 20 minutes she was gone. Her breathing got increasingly less labored and she just slipped away peacefully. One of my first thoughts was, “Don’t you do this when your kids aren’t here!” Not because I minded being alone with her, but because I knew after all the time they spent at her bedside they would want to be there in her last moments. Then I realized that she had chosen this time for the very reason that her children were not there. Together earlier that day they had let her know she had their permission to let go but I don’t think she could let go while they were there holding her hand. How like her to be concerned with burdening and saddening them even with her passing. Maybe ten minutes later Keith returned. When he came in I really wasn’t sure how to tell him. I was standing there at her bedside and he came to check on her. I just let him take it in for a moment himself. He looked at me and said “Is she breathing?” I told him she wasn’t. He quietly asked, “Is she gone?” I simply said “Yes.” When I knew he had no more questions for me, I stepped out of the room so he could have his time with her to say goodbye. When Aunt Katherine returned she was far more grief stricken over not having been there when she passed. After the initial shock and time to say goodbye we were able to talk and she agreed that it had probably been easier for her mother to let go when they weren’t there. She will probably always feel that she missed that time with her mother but she seems more at peace with it now.

     I feel so very blessed to have been the one present in her final moments. At the funeral my Aunt thanked me for being there for her mother. Through her tears she told me that I helped her to die with love and with dignity. I could not have strived for more.

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