Do You Know What Bliss Looks Like?
Pure, peaceful bliss. That was the look on Vivian’s face when I woke her up on the morning of Monday, November 30, 2020. I greeted her with my usual “Good Morning,” gently touched her hand, and offered her a warm smile. When she made eye contact with me, the look I saw was pure, peaceful bliss. In my mind’s eye, I felt that I’d woken her up from a vision of heaven where she’d been enjoying time with her late husband, Henry, who passed away in October of 2013. I didn’t know then that she would not fully wake or interact with us the rest of the day. I didn’t know that she wouldn’t respond to the idea of drinking water or enjoying her regular applesauce dosed with her smashed-up pills that could otherwise not be swallowed. I had no reason to believe, during that initially pleasant wake-up call, that she had turned a corner overnight.
As I attempted to proceed with our still-new, week-old routine, I noticed that she wasn’t coming to a full awareness of the morning. Though her eyes would open for brief periods, she couldn’t respond to questions like, “Are you hungry?” or, “Are you in pain?” or, “Do you need another blanket?” Our Visiting Angel, Teiyana, arrived while I went about feeding the dogs and checking on Vivian. After informing Teiyana that things seemed different, I proceeded to prepare Vivian’s medicined applesauce like I’d done every day for just over a week, fully expecting that she would still be able to enjoy what little amount of breakfast she could take in. When Vivian couldn’t fully wake up, I decided to call the hospice nurse with Compassus. Tracy arrived within a couple of hours, checked Vivian’s vitals, and concluded the possibility that her stage three kidney disease had likely progressed to stage four.
The nurse assured me that Vivian could still pull out of this decline while informing me how to identify signs of pain or terminal agitation so that I could provide the proper comfort medications as needed. I listened intently with a lump in my throat, trying to grasp how quickly Vivian’s condition had progressed. I’m sure that most of me was still in denial. The Compassus Home Health Aid arrived to give Vivian her scheduled sponge bath, and I felt a tinge of hope that she would revive from his care and attention. She slept through most of her bath, only waking briefly, then drifting back to sleep again, like she’d been doing since I woke her up that morning.
Carlos finished giving her a bath, dumped his bucket of water, and placed the dirty linens in the bathroom the way he’d done every other day for the past week. Then he nodded as he passed me in the kitchen, telling me that we would talk in a minute. This was not part of our newly established routine. He said that during her bath, she spoke, with clear words and clenched face, asking “how much longer.” Carlos then commented that those words could mean any number of things. He claimed that he didn’t know what exactly she may have been referring to, but he comforted her as best he could. “Not much longer,” he assured her.
It’s been slightly over twelve hours since I woke her this morning. Her condition is the same. I continue to watch her for signs of pain or terminal agitation so that I can keep her comfortable. Whether she can or will improve remains unknown, but I will hold onto that blissful image of her briefly waking up this morning, when, I’m now more convinced than before that she had just had a long-awaited date with Henry.