Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day Ten -- Nearing Death Awareness

I was reading this book the week my mother died. I wasn't expecting her death, as physically she seemed healthy but mentally, dementia had taken a very severe toll. She rarely knew who I was when I visited and to pass the time I would just talk and hold her hand. I'd tell her family news mostly, not really knowing if she understood who or even what I was talking about.

Though she didn't seem to know me, on several separate occasions I would mention my daughter's name and her face would light up. One time she became so excited thinking that my daughter was about to visit, she insisted I go out to the car and bring her in. Sadly, my daughter wasn't with me on that visit. Her reaction was so unusual that I remarked about it each time it happened. She never had this reaction with any other name.

So back to the book. The author is a hospice nurse and coined a term "nearing death awareness"(NDA) which is a separate phenomena from a "near death experience"(NDE).

From an interview with the author, Maggie Callahan:
"In the book I offer a comparison of the NDE and NDA because they are first cousins. An NDE is a sudden, unexpected event in which a person is clinically dead and therefore unable to communicate and only talks about the experience after the fact – and only if they trust the people."

" The most profound difference between Nearing Death Awareness and an NDE is that the patients are talking while the experience is actually happening. If you’re astute and not too quick to label it something like confusion in order to make yourself comfortable, you are afforded an opportunity to enter the dialogue and enter the landscape, which is mind-blowing".

"There are two categories:
what I am experiencing and the second, what I need to get on to a peaceful death. The first category of what I am experiencing is the answer to what does it feel like to die. It’s very common for our dying patients to tell us they’re in the presence of someone we cannot see, someone not alive. It’s usually a family member who has predeceased them."

My daughter was home for Spring Break and we decided to visit Grandma. I had seen my mother 2 weeks previous and she had been in a good humor, not making sense but smiling and eating and trying to talk. But the day we visited, things were different. My mother was very agitated, would not eat, she was extremely restless and wouldn't open her eyes. She was moaning and babbling. I sat and held her hand, doing the usual stupid loud talk as if she couldn't hear, telling her who we were and asking her to look at us but she wouldn't open her eyes or stop talking. I couldn't understand her.

My daughter told me to move and she took her Grandmother's hand and patiently told her in a soft voice who she was and that she loved her. She listened very intently while I talked to the caregiver. She finally told me to be quieter as she couldn't hear what Grandma was saying.

I kept saying what a shame it was that she was so anxious and confused that day and how much happier she had been 2 weeks before. We stayed about 45 minutes and, when I noticed my daughter crying, I decided it was time to go. We kissed her, told her we loved her and left.

It wasn't until we were driving away that my daughter told me "Grandma was in there Mom! She knew we were there. Every time I told her who I was she squeezed my hand, every time I told her I loved her she squeezed it again. And she was talking about seeing angels and celestial beings and about how she was afraid to take the next step and go to the next plane."

What??? I stopped the car and looked at her and told her about the book I'd been reading. I told her it sounded like Nearing Death Awareness where people see long lost loved ones or angels. But denial took hold. Grandma was healthy, she wasn't going to die soon, no we didn't need to go back. What a fool I was. 48 hours later she died.

My daughter taught me a lesson, one I will never forget. I was a nurse for many years yet she taught me more about love and patience than I ever learned on my own taking care of hundreds of patients. Her quiet gentleness, intelligence and intuitiveness have always been her greatest gifts and she used them that day. My mother still had the need to be heard and it would have been a tragedy if my daughter had not had the patience to quietly sit and listen to her. I am now forever certain there is another life beyond the one we live here on earth. My mother was halfway there, about to step over the threshold and I believe she was waiting for my daughter to be there to have the courage to go. Thanks Maggie, I love you.

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