Our last memories have been stolen from us
I bet if you ask random people on the street what their greatest fear is – if you had asked even in the Before Times, many of them would say, “Dying alone. I don’t want to die alone.”
I bet most people would say also that they do not want to be sick alone. That they don’t want to be suffering alone. That they don’t want to be in the hospital alone.
And yet, that is what’s happening to so many people.
They are being forced to spend their last weeks, days, minutes alone. Separated from the people they love and the people who love them.
They are being forced to be apart in the worst time of their life.
They are forced to endure pain and fear alone, without the comfort of a hand to hold.
It didn’t have to be this way. It didn’t have to happen like this.
This beautiful twitter essay about a woman dying of cancer 20 years ago in the hospital, surrounded by the people she loves, ends with the nurse thinking now about how things have changed since that patient died:
Time passes. Twenty years. The nurse was young back then, but now she is a seasoned veteran. And now she holds a phone up, so that a family can look upon their dying loved one from afar. And she remembers sadly what it used to be like, before, where all roads meet.Sayed Tabatabai, MD
This is how people are being cheated – being robbed – by COVID, and, by extension, this president and his administration.
Not only are more people dying than should be dying, they are dying alone.
Sick people and their families are being cheated out of precious time together. They are being cheated out of memories and hugs and goodbyes.
I still miss my dad. I now realize how shockingly young he was when he died – he was only 62, which seemed old to me at the time but is now not so far away and is just a normal age where people still do stuff.
But even in my sadness and loss, I have memories of our last days and minutes together.
I have the memory of sitting next to his bed in the hospice while he told us stories about his childhood.
I have the memory of sleeping in the chair in his room when he was first diagnosed and not getting much sleep at all because it’s almost impossible to sleep in a hospital. But he asked that I stay – he didn’t want to be alone.
I have the memory of both of my grandmothers coming to see him for the last time. Watching a mother in her 80s say goodbye to her youngest child, knowing she will bury him, is not a happy memory but it is still a precious one.
I have the memory of trying to get my dad to eat while he was going through chemo, doing whatever it took to tempt his appetite, even if it meant finding the nearest Burger King to get him a milkshake that he then took two sips of before admitting that he just couldn’t eat any more.
I have the memory of trying to watch the movie “Babe” with him and my brother and my sister because we wanted him to see it because it was a good movie, right? And he tried so hard but after half an hour, asked us to turn it off. He didn’t say it out loud, but I realized he didn’t want to spend the last days of his life watching a movie.
I have the memory of sitting next to him as my mom called his friends from around the world so they could say goodbye. He laughed and his eyes sparkled and when she hung up the phone, he said, “I didn’t know there were so many people who loved me.”
I have the memory of flipping through the yearbook his students sent him. He had been their teacher for only a few months when he was diagnosed with cancer and medivac’d back to the US, but his junior high math and science students at the school on the US navy base on Sicily loved him so much that they had two bake sales to raise the money to buy and send him a yearbook. They all signed it.
I have the memory of Sister Jovita, the nun who ran the hospice where he died, telling us that he told her things he wouldn’t tell us because he didn’t think we could handle knowing how scared he was.
I have the memory of hugging him with barely a touch, as even the weight of the sheet on his body hurt him.
I have the memory of my brother crying in frustration to the doctor when my dad refused further treatment. “Can’t you make him do something?” my brother asked. The doctor shook his head and answered gently, “There is nothing we can do.”
I have the memories of my cousins and my aunts and uncles bringing us food at the hospice, making sure that we didn’t have to leave to find lunch or supper. Every day, one of them drove the 35 miles from their house to the hospital to bring us a meal.
I have the memory of the going-away party we held for my dad in his room at the hospice. My grandmothers, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins came. My dad had raved about my aunt Pat’s Old Fashioneds, so she brought an entire pitcher of them. We wondered if someone in hospice should have alcohol and then we realized that was a stupid thing to wonder about and poured him a glass. We opened a bottle of champagne and toasted him. We talked about everyone he would see in heaven, including his own father, who had died at 59, his best friend, who had died in the 1960s in a fire on his ship, and our cat, O’Malley.
I have the memory of my dad finally saying that he hoped he would just go sleep and not wake up – that he was done.
I have the memory of sitting at my dad’s side as he slipped into a non-responsive state. I asked the doctor, who would come just to hang out with my dad – the same thing happened when he was first diagnosed, as well – the hospital chaplain would come just to hang out because he liked my dad, if we shouldn’t be giving him fluids via IV. “I wouldn’t let a dog dehydrate to death,” I said. The doctor asked, “Do you think that’s what your dad would want? All fluids would do would be to delay his death.”
I have the memory of a nurse shaking me awake shortly after 6:00 a.m. My mom, my brother, my sister, and I were sleeping at the hospice in a dorm room down the hall from my dad’s room. “He’s just died,” she said. I ran to his room but I was too late. How could I have missed it? He was still warm. But he was gone.
I have these memories and they are so, so sad.
But I have them.
Nobody took them from me. Nobody prevented us from being with my dad during his illness and during his last days.
These memories make me cry.
But I have them.
In my father’s last days, I got to talk to him and touch him and pray with him and sit by his side.
This is what has been taken from us now.
This is what this horrible president and his horrible, evil, inexcusable lack of leadership has done to us.
He has not only caused people to die – more people than should be dying, but but he has also stolen from people their last memories. He is ensuring that people die alone, scared and lonely. He is turning peoples’ last days into a hell.
This did not have to happen.