JOURNEY’S END: WHAT TO EXPECT AND WHAT TO DO

by BCBP Editor

By Bong Pelaez, BCBP Chairman BOT, BCBP Cagayan de Oro

Sooner or later we are all faced with the death of a loved one. The Pathways Hospice Handbook, under Patient Care, states: “Most people aren’t sure that they’ll know what to do and whether they’ll be able to manage in the final days of their loved one’s life.” Here is what we did when we were informed that our sister Peachy was dying.

My older sister, Peachy, was diagnosed to have a brain tumor in July 2011. She underwent brain surgery in September 2011 at the Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. According to the surgeon, he removed what was visibly seen and was satisfied by the outcome . This was followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

After a month, Peachy was able to move around and even drive to the Care Home she managed and owned. Monthly check up and monitoring followed since the cancer cells were the vicious and the most aggressive type. Then in January 2012, she complained of severe headache and experienced nausea. In February, the MRI proved the recurrence of tumor in the brain.

In the third week of March, her brain surgeon when consulted did not advise another surgery BUT would do it if it was the wish of the patient and family members. My brother-in-law, a retired surgeon, decided for a home stay and care home combined. He informed us siblings that this was the ideal time for us to visit Peachy while she was still lucid. My twin sister, Cherry, and I decided to take the flight on March 28 for California leaving behind and delegating our work and responsibilities.

Day 1 to 6 (March 29 to April 3,2012) at Peachy’s residence : On the first day , our first task was to transfer Peachy from her room on the second floor to the dining area which was converted into a room on the ground floor. We did what was done in her care home – giving her a shampoo, having meals in the kitchen breakfast nook area, and exercising her leg muscles. Every time we tried to get her up, the heavier she was since she could no longer stand up using her leg muscles.

Day 7 to 15 (April 4 to 11): Frank, my brother-in-law, made arrangements with a hospice nurse to visit Peachy. The nurse came that morning and briefed us on Peachy’s deteriorating condition. The sad news was that Peachy would have to be on bed rest at all times. Her body needed to conserve all her energy. What we thought was good – getting her up, putting her in the wheel chair, and assisting her to exercise- was doing more harm than good.

The hospice nurse informed us of the similarity of the labor of birth to the labor of death. Her metaphor was that of a submarine. As it goes deeper, it slows down for a while until it reaches the bottom ground of the sea floor. The nurse said that we would have to assist Peachy in letting go and meeting her Creator by praying with her, by telling her that we love her, and by assuring her that she can already rest.

We needed to keep the place as quiet as possible and maintain the serenity of rest and peace.
Guests were welcome but had to be informed to keep the place serene. They could talk to her and give her their assurance of their love and farewell.

MY PERSONAL VIEWS as reflected upon during this time:
– We should review how we look at death – from the point of view of the patient as well as for the living relatives.
– We need to treat the patient with dignity, care, and compassion.
– We are the ones to guide the patient to the Creator.

THE CHALLENGES:
In the Philippines, care homes and hospices are not a common practice. We bring our patient immediately to the hospital – even if medically the situation is hopeless. Sad to say that the hospital checks first on the family’s capacity to pay before admitting the patient. This results in irritation between the family and the hospital admission staff, as well as great stress on the family and relatives. WHY NOT spend time with the patient up to his/her last breath in his/her home? Why in the hospital ICU with very limited visitors?

My Day 14, April 12, 7:30AM
I am beside Peachy’s bed and I see her beautiful face sleeping and at peace. (The picture is my last farewell to Peachy.) I experience a heavy heart as I sit there without uttering a word. I am very sad as I am about to bid her good bye forever for tomorrow night, Cherry and I will take our flight back to Manila. I pray for Peachy’s healing according to God’s plan…

MY REFLECTION:
Our temporal stay allows us to prepare ourselves for our resurrection and to meet Jesus face to face. Our daily prayers help us attain this goal. But too often we the living are so engrossed in our day to day challenges that we forget our end goal … can we not pause for a while and say “life is too short to be wasted”? Can we not pause in thankfulness and savor, even just for a few moments, the peace of the Presence of God?

APRIL 16, 2012-11:36AM : Peachy finally meets our Creator. Her family were with her praying the rosary. A beautiful and meaningful passing from earthly life to eternal life. Thank you, Lord, for letting us be part of the ending of her earthly journey.

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3 comments

Wendy R. Garcia May 2, 2012 - 2:08 am

Dear Bong –

I admire you for sharing your actual experience of helping in Peachy’s care during the last days of her earthly life and most of all, for the reflection and insights you have provided. It has made me see what really matters in this life – LOVE is the key to everything. Peachy’s death was very peaceful and full of God’s guiding light. Because she was a loving wife, mother, sister and friend, she got that love back a hundredfold. I saw it in the loving way her family took care of her – in Frank, in her 4 children, in you, Cherry & Apples, and the many, many friends who came to visit to bid her goodbye. Her Memorial Service was truly a celebration of life – the life of a good person. She will always be a cherished cousin and friend. A good person never dies. Her memory lives on in her family, in her children & in the good she left behind.

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Albert Meneses April 30, 2012 - 10:39 am

Dear Bong, thank you for sharing a dark moment in your life. By doing so, you inspire me to embrace God’s will and simply embrace the presence of the Risen Lord during these Easter days. My mom is also struggling with a tumor that as even diagnosed to be cancer and my siblings are all taking care of her. My children are doing their part as well and my wife and I will visit her on Mother’s day. My prayers are offered for your family in this time of loss. May our Lord continue to comfort you and your family! Peace. Albert

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Willie Simbul April 28, 2012 - 9:44 pm

Seeing how you connected with us, your BCBP family on the days of April 13-14,(esp the eve of Apr 13) and now this narrative, I can’t help but be more grateful to God for giving us the rightful chief shepherd that you are.
Yes, I completely agree with domiciliary care over hospice care in such cases as Peachy’s. Our prayers are with you and the family, bro.

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