family

Stolen Quote: Peaceful Cessation

Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body. ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


My father-in-law, Jake, passed away at home one month ago. But the night before he passed was anything but peaceful. He grew restive, and kept calling on my wife and me to help him with trivial things. Then he began hallucinating. His pain increased, and the pain medication from hospice was not helping. He was a strong man, even up to his death. He kept trying to crawl out of his hospice-provided hospital bed, and it was all I could do to keep him in place.

At about midnight we felt desperate and called hospice. They sent out a nurse who lived an hour-and-a-half away. That hour-and-a-half of waiting for her arrival seemed like a year-and-a-half. Jake would not sit still. He writhed about in pain. Sometimes he seemed to imagine that he was cooking and eating, based upon the way he moved his hands. He bit hard into his hand several times, and drew blood, thinking he was eating.

Finally the nurse arrived. She gave him a strong dose of morphine. But still Jake struggled, cried out in pain, hallucinated, and kept biting his hand. It took about an hour for the morphine to ease his pain and calm him down. At about 2:30 am he fell asleep. The nurse went home, and my wife and I managed to catch a few hours of sleep, ourselves.

Jake never woke up. Thank God! No, thank morphine!! He peacefully ceased breathing the next afternoon. This “peaceful cessation” must be what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was referring to.

Kubler-Ross fails to mention the vital role of morphine in achieving a peaceful death. Some people just have to have it. Death is not always as easy as sometimes portrayed. When the miracle of modern medicine manages to keep us alive into our eighties and nineties, we may need another medical miracle to achieve a peaceful death. Morphine seems to be the answer.

I hope Jake truly is in a better place. He was a flawed man, but overall a good man. It was an honor to be by his side during his last hours, and to help ease his pain and his transition to whatever lies beyond. If you find yourself in a position to do the same for somebody you love, do not hesitate. You will never regret being there for that person.

Just don’t forget the morphine.

Categories: family

12 replies »

  1. I’ve never been with a dying person in their last moments–patient or family member. But I have been through it with my pets, and having the vet do it is far more peaceful than what happens naturally. Bless you and your wife for being there for Jake. 🙂

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    • Thank you. Whether human or animal, it’s a mixed-emotional experience. On the one hand, you’re sad to see them go. But on the other hand, you feel relieved that their suffering is over.

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  2. Sorry to hear that Jake’s last evening was so rough . . . but glad he was not alone at the end. Even when we know “it’s time,” it’s sad to lose the ones we love, even if their song sings on in our hearts and memories.

    Morphine = the BEST sleep I’ve gotten in the past 15 years! The stage: in the hospital, after surgery, with a morphine drip. The action: Click ~> Sweet Dreams.

    Aah . . . Morpheus, Morpheus . . . where for are’t thou Morpheus?

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  3. You just described my mom’s final days. Restless just doesn’t begin to describe it.

    The only difference is that it was 5 days before she passed away. I too gave thanks for the morphine that eased her pain and distress during those difficult days.
    My siblings and I sat vigil day and night during those 5 days. It was a time that drew us closer together than we had ever been – talking, laughing, sharing memories. I’ve often thought that this was my mother’s final gift to us.

    My younger sister and I were with her when she finally passed. After all we had been through, it came suddenly and unexpectedly. It felt like a special honour to be there with her in her final moments.

    Thank you for this story. Death touches all of us eventually. This piece sheds a different light on a process that many people don’t like to talk about.

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    • Thanks. It really is a special time, that can bring people closer together. My wife and I strengthened our bond as we helped Jake, and each other, through this trying time. I love hearing that your experience with your siblings was so positive for your family. That’s the ideal way to deal with death, in my view.

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  4. I’ve been with a couple of people who died. One being my grandmother. That was peaceful aside from my uncontrollable crying but I was glad to be there with her. No morphine. She had slipped into a semi coma then a full one.

    The other was a client. Her death for her was peaceful. It’s a whole other story.

    How are you guys doing since?

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    • We’re doing okay, thank you. We’re just damn busy. We have to take care of a bunch of rentals, and deal with administering Jake’s estate. It isn’t easy.

      Fortunately, Jake took measures to make the job less difficult than it otherwise would be, but it still is no cakewalk. Hopefully within about a month we’ll be through the worst of it.

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