Sunday, February 17, 2019

Where grief, mental health and self-care come together

Very important information near the end of this piece if you're in dire emotional straits right now.

It was five years ago today that our family lost our Mom. So I want to talk about my Mom's passing today and about some very important issues which connect with the story. Issues that are a part of the stories of so many of us.

It was Feb 17th of 2014, that she passed. Because I last saw her alive on Valentine's Day, I get very solemn when I see the the day approaching.

I got her a bouquet for V-Day and dropped it off at the Nursing Home where she had been for the five months before her death.

She had spent months in Convalescent Homes twice before; once for a bad fall and once because she nearly choked to death while eating.

In the choking incident, she coded while in her room. She had been eating her dinner and began to choke; she aspirated a very large bite of chicken and was unconscious when the staff found her.

The pulmonary specialist later told us that she was very fortunate to have survived as he had never removed a piece of food that large from a patient's lung and seen them live.

This was still--as you might imagine--a huge crisis. She spent the next six days in ICU and was then discharged to the Nursing Home where she passed five months later.

The family and I definitely saw the need for her to be there. She was at constant risk for falling, having taken three falls, one of which broke her shoulder. In addition, Mom had a very serious issue with depression and anxiety and frequently talked about wanting to end her life.

I had taken care of her for the previous seven years. For the last two, I was literally with her 24/7 as she couldn't cook for herself or get around without help. Most days, her mobility was close to zero.

She was at great risk for self harm or choking; the loss of many back teeth had made the choking risk even greater.

So when she was back in a facility, my brother John and I understood the need for it. She was on a list to have only softened foods and to never eat alone.

After two or three months of this routine, Mom learned that she could override John's instructions--he was her medical surrogate--and take herself off that list and eat food without a nurse or CNA in the room with her.

We were very concerned about this, of course, but could do nothing to change it.

It was only five days later that Mom was eating a sandwich--the nightly bedtime snack--without a staffer present. She choked on the sandwich and died in her bed.

A bit more about her depression: Mom was pretty much defenseless when she would descend into that cloud of despair, but as the saying goes, the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.

While caring for Mom, I was also struggling with constant thoughts of harming myself. And I had been walking on the edge of that abyss on-and-off for about 20 years before that.

But being a care-giver around the clock with few-to-no-breaks for years had made the problem of wanting to end my life much worse. 

To be brutally honest, the only two reasons I didn't were that the role left me no opportunity, as I wouldn't leave Mom alone for any reason. And I was 100% certain that it would crush her completely and suck every note of joy from her life.

So the fact that she died, and that she died by choking, after my brother and I begged the staff to try to keep that from happening, made everything worse. 

And this was a good thing, but not without irony: it also meant that her death would not come from self-harm, as we had dreaded for so long. I had gotten in the routine of keeping her Xanax and other powerful meds locked in my safe until dosing for many years.

So today marks five years since Mom passed. As I said at the top, I tend to get morose, introspective and very solemn each year as we approach Valentine's Day. It's good to be able to say that the thoughts of taking my own life are somewhat easier to deal with now.

I remain under a Doctor's care for my depression and anxiety, as I was for the years I took care of Mom. A situation where both the patient and the care-giver deal with serious mental health issues can be very tough. I'm very grateful I did get through that challenging time.

There are three things I'd like to see from "spilling my guts" here about Mom's passing: the first is to remind everyone to cherish the moments you have with the ones you love. None of us knows when those moment will have slipped away forever.

The second thing is that for those of us who think about harming ourselves, it's vitally important to practice good, proactive self care. Make sure you're under the care of medical professionals, take appropriate meds and keep an eye on stressful situations. That last one is so critical!

The third thing is that someone you know may be very, very close to the edge of that abyss. If so, please take a moment to let your friends and/or family member know that you care. Especially to ones who withdraw from life, family and work activities to a degree that seems extreme or just doesn't make sense.

Take special care with any friend or loved one who begins to speak in the past tense more than would be normal or begins to give away cherished or important possessions. This is a sign I've missed. Badly. 

When I say that, there's another situation, another story I have in mind. But that story will come another day.

This last week has been very stressful for me. For a couple of different reasons. I needed to ask for help and I did. And I got a lot of it and I'm very grateful! 

Please watch out for those who are at risk, who are in despair!

Call or text this number 24/7/365 if you need to talk: 800 273 TALK (8255)

Here's a link to the site of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I've contributed to their fine work and recommend them highly.

Ben Lawrence Basile

No comments:

Post a Comment