I read somewhere that the first two weeks after the loss of a spouse was the “easy part” since there are so many things to do, visitors, cards, practical arrangements, and just plain “busyness.” I’m not sure it was “easy” but I can attest to the “busy” part. Family and friends have been keeping me company while I try to navigate the early days of grieving. Here is a brief update….
TO: Family and Friends….
This is the letter I never wanted to write. Your friend, family member, and my wife of almost 48 years passed away peacefully last night, surrounded by her children, lots of flowers, a rose scented candle, and Beetles music. Phyl just ran out of time. Her breathing has been getting worse for the past year and finally her lungs quit on her, even with the mask and respirator.
The past two weeks have been tough as she struggled to breathe and lost her ability to communicate. When she experienced air hunger, we gave her morphine which gave her some relief. Yesterday morning I helped her dress and took her into the dining room in her power wheelchair. She had three doses of morphine before she got comfortable, but this also made her groggy. We didn’t think she was aware of what was going on around her, but when she heard our grandchildren playing at the dining room table Phyl perked up and waived to them weakly.
We kept her comfortable all day with morphine. She seemed to perk up when her brother Howard call, but she slept most of the day. Her breathing became weaker and weaker all day and we knew she was transitioning when her oxygen level began to drop. Jake, Brian, Jeremy and his wife Sam, and I held her hands, rubbed her legs, talked to her, and cried until her breathing stopped altogether at 2:45am. It was a relief as she was suffering. She passed very peacefully.
Phyl will be cremated and we are planning a celebration of life sometime in the fall, hopefully associated with the ALS Walk-a-Thon in Look Park. More on that later. We’ll also ask for donations in lieu of flowers etc. for the ALS Association of Massachusetts which has been very good to us. Here is the link if you would like to help;
I’ll tell you more in another letter, as I’m exhausted and can’t think.
Love to you all…..
After her passing…… a few posts about John after….
June 28, 2020 – The first two weeks
July 4, 2020 – Navigating Transitions
August 15 – After Two Months
TO: Friends and Family…
My wife of nearly 48 years, your mother, sister, daughter, cousin, or friend is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The person I have loved the most, hurt the most, and shared the most joy, the most challenges, and the most adventures with is leaving me – and I don’t want her to go. Phyl has been the center of our family, the hub around which our holidays and family events all revolve – and we don’t want her to go. She has been a good friend to many of you, some of you have known her for more than the 50+ years that I can claim – and you don’t want her to go. But for Phyl who is suffering emotionally and physically, who has lost so much – I think it time that we to begin to let her go.
As some of you know, the air hunger caused by poor (no) lung function has increased to the point that she is getting small doses of morphine most of the day to treat or prevent air hunger. While this reduces the anxiety of not being able to get enough air, it also makes her sleepy. She is sleeping much of the day and night. When she has visitors, she struggles to stay awake to listen to the conversation but after a while this makes her fidgety and anxious. Since she can’t talk and her hand movements are limited, she has difficult time telling us what she needs. We play a guessing game that seems exhausting to Phyl and sometimes she just quits trying to tell us what she needs. Sometimes she moans quietly (a few nights ago it went on for 3 hours) and we can’t figure out what is wrong.
I’m really not sure why anyone would be interested in my thoughts on the afterlife but it helps me to clarify my own thinking when I write. So I did. I’ve been thinking about death a lot as several close friends have died recently and the corona virus has surely put death in the news. These sort of ponderings seem to happen to many people as they age. I offer these ideas in a public forum in hopes that some readers might share their own thought/feelings about life and death (in the Comments box below).
SO HERE GOES…
First, I’m not terribly fond of the word “afterlife” – even though I used it in the title. Most people know what is meant by the term afterlife, so it is useful. But the word “afterlife” feels too final as I have come to believe in the continuation of consciousness after the death of the physical body. For me, the death experience appears to be more of a transition to another form of existence, a continuation – not an ending. I need a better word to describe the “condition of being that follows once the spirit-self has left its bodily container.” Perhaps you have a suggestion.
I surely don’t have a picture in mind of a heaven with “pearly white gates, hanging out with old friends playing harps in the clouds etc.”, I do understand why that description might be a useful story to tell children and I suspect it can be a comfort to those who believe. But it’s just a bit too easy for me to accept what seems more like a fairy tale than a thoughtful depiction of the state of existence that continues following the demise of the body. Nevertheless, I believe that we live forever, as suggested in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic book, The Secret Garden.Continue reading Thoughts on life and the afterlife
TO: Friends and Family
Sound asleep… I feel, rather than hear a noise in the bed next to me as I awake abruptly to Phyl trying to get my attention. I pop up quickly and see her from the light given off by her ventilator machine. Phyl is pounding her chest…. the signal that she needs the cough machine. Running down the hall to find the cough machine which is still in the living room from yesterday’s use, I’m confused. She needs the cough machine so she is choking on her own saliva, but she has never woken up choking from sleep before. A new first… in 4 years of firsts. A new normal?
I must elevate her bed to a more upright position, remove her face mask from the ventilator, and hold the cough machine mask over her mouth and nose. Pressing the button to activate the forced air, her cheeks blow out like a squirrel with a mouth full of nuts and her eyes open wide in a look of surprise. Her chest heaves out as her lungs fill with air and then suddenly, the machine reverses and becomes a vacuum, drawing air out as she coughs to try to clear her throat. She nods and looks at me with expectation… do it again…. and once more I fill her lungs with air.
After a few of these violent breaths and coughs, there is a quick swallowing motion as she clears her throat of the remaining saliva, nods her head, and begins to relax. She is breathing again in those short desperate, chest heaving motions that say it’s time to put her ventilator mask back on. A smile of relief and her eyes get soft again. The fear that surrounds us both whenever she cannot breathe is released. Back to normal…..
By LAWRENCE J. WINSHIP
For the Daily Hampshire Gazette – April 25, 2020
Hundreds of years ago, the flowering bulb markets of Holland were overcome by tulip mania. Buyers bid up highly desired varieties to astronomical prices, paying enormous sums for rarity and flamboyance. Fortunes were made and lost. One of the most sought-after varieties was the Semper Augustus, with striking streaks of white in its red petals — strange, magnificent, and deadly to other tulips.
Not until 1928 was it shown that the dramatic white streaks in the Semper Augustus tulips were caused by a viral infection, spread by aphids, and ultimately lethal to all infected tulips and lilies. But so highly desired and valuable were these infected plants that it took years before government stepped in to protect the bulb industry. Continue reading Will we head viral lessons from “broken” tulips?