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Dying on Schedule

What happens when the family fully expects a loved one to die, and he doesn’t? One family gathered around the bed of the husband and father, confirmed one more time that he didn’t want the “forced air” mask on any more, and said their goodbyes. After 18 hours, he’s still here. They hovered and stared at him for awhile, their pastor gave a sermon, read scripture, had prayer, confessional, and everything else he could think of to set the stage for the grand exit, but he didn’t die, yet. They don’t know what else to say to him, and have settled into keeping watch in shifts as they try to relax as much as possible. The vigil is unexpectedly long. What could be the purpose of such a wait? I believe it’s possible that everyone is learning a great deal from the experience, not the least of which is that we are not in control of such things. The need for patience to wait for the dying process will be most valuable to all the survivors. They will now have a new benchmark for future vigils in terms of, “this is what we did with dad.” They also learn that the human body can be extremely durable, and the human will like iron. It won’t be much longer, but the trajectory of his decline will simply be much flatter and slower than anticipated. We never stop learning, and being surprised.

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  • Trish, RN CHPN

    That exact scenario is happening on our unit now. The family cannot understand “what he is waiting for”. Nursing staff sees that it will still be some time yet.

    • Teri

      Maybe he is waiting for permission. My husband Kevin also kept holding on, but then he would look at me as if to say please help me. After what seemed like an eternity, I said (in my own personal way) that it way OK and I was going to be fine.I told him that I loved him with all my heart, he wrapped his arm around with his very last bit of strenght, kissed me hard looked into my eyes, and 3 tears feel. As we both cried (we knew) he put his head on my shoulder and took his last breath. PERMISSION.

Can We Talk?
Watch and share this five minute video about the need for prophylactic end-of-life conversations. Laura Heldebrand, an ICU nurse tells her mother's story.
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