To Die Like Mildred

No one has personally taught me a more important lesson in life then Mildred. Mildred taught me how to face death.  Everyone else has taught me to run.  She taught me how to look at death and adjust my collar and fix my hair ever just right in death’s presence.  How to look at death and invite her in for tea.  How to look at her and smile from the knowing that we will be together one day.

I worked as an in-home caregiver and Mildred was one of my clients for 14 months. She was a 96 year old lady who had been born in North Dakota long ago.  She graduated from college and then made her way to Colorado where she earned her Master’s in education.  For most of her life she had been a middle school teacher in home economics.  She had been a trailblazer in her younger years.  Not many women had achieved their graduate degree, but Mildred did.

When she met me, she liked me right away.  I was very hands off and did not talk to her in that sing songy voice that people like to use with very old people.  I spoke to her using an even tone and with great respect.  Mildred had been firing caregivers because she felt they treated her like a child.  Upon my visit, she could have sent me on my way; instead, she told me she looked forward to seeing me the next day.

Mildred was a very old human with the aches and pains that come with achieving such a privilege.  Most people die in their 80s.  Here was Mildred moving through life still and still looking beautiful.  She was about 5 feet 6 inches with good posture.  Her hair was curly and solid white.  It had the wiry texture of an old person.  She kept it neat and combed.  Her skin complexion was very pale white and full of deep wrinkles.  Her white skin and hair set off her transluscent light blue eyes.  She was beautiful.  Her voice was confident.

Mildred did not want to live anymore.  She felt she had lived long enough.  It worried her that she came from a long line of women who lived to reach 100 years old.  She could not bear the idea.  She was ready to move on.  We talked to her family about her wishes and they agreed to let Mildred move on with her life into the other.  Transition.  That is what we call in in hospice care when we want to be clinical.

However, she could not be considered for hospice since she was not terminal, but Mildred said her age and with it the aches and pains made her terminal.  The doctor told her the terminal window was within six months.  Mildred decided with the Doctor’s supervision that she would stop taking her thyroid medication and all her vitamins and supplements.  She did.  As her health deteriorated, Mildred and I continued to live our lives as all people do.  I prepared her meals and tea.  We kept her home clean and read the paper.  We did not listen to music or watch television because they made her agitated.  She felt like she had heard and watched all she wanted.  These types of arts no longer soothed her.  She missed gardening, hiking and driving.

During the last month of her life, my care for her intensified.  She was approved for in-home hospice care which meant that when death was near, her morphine would be delivered.  I moved in full time to care for her.  To her satisfaction, she was getting weaker.  All was going according to her plan.  I have never seen anyone mentally preparing for death like this before.  I bathed her and kept her hair groomed.  She always looked neat.  Our conversations changed to her experiences and the good life she lived with her children, husband and friends.  She was not lonely for her young life.  She spoke about them with laughter as stories of long ago.

One day, I stopped by my work office to fill out forms for other clients and had a discussion with the more seasoned  hospice workers about dying.  They told me that a sign that means she is close to dying is when she starts talking about her parents.  She had never talked about them before.

One week before her death, Mildred told me about the dreams she was having about her father and all the goods memories of him.  Right then, I new death was among us, and it was an honor to be around her.  Mildred taught me that death is part of life.  It is the Ying to the Yang.  It is not to be feared when it whispers, “Let it go.”

Later on that week Mildred started to experience excruciating pain in her back, and I would massage her through the night until she fell asleep.  She would wake up through out the night and call for me.  I wanted to be sure I was there for her so I slept on the floor right up against her bed holding her hand.  One night, she woke and sat up again.  She had been doing this every hour for a few days and was wearing me ragged.  Yet, I never complained.  Whatever she needed, I was there.

She sat up frustrated that her back hurt and that the pain would not go away.  Again, I sat on her bed and massaged her back in the dark with moonlight coming in through the window. I had bags under my eyes and my hair was knotted up like a bird’s nest.  She was moaning in pain out loud.  She said, “oooh I can not sleep!” and I answered in the dark, “ok, scoot over, and I will sleep in your bed” and she laughed uproariously.  There we were in the dark laughing together at death.

Later on that week, with the help of morphine,  Mildred moved on.  I packed up my belongings and walked out to my truck.  The heels of my boots clicked on the cold cement of the sidewalk that echoed solitude in the grey winter day.  The trees were bare of their beautiful leaves which were brown and scattered around the sidewalk and all clumped up in the snow.  It a shame I thought, that the leaves were not able to die like Mildred.

{the image is my favorite of the Angel of Death from American Horror Story}

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2 Comments

  1. Your description of Mildred and what she meant to you is truly touching. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Entisar

      Thank you.

      Like

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