Transitioning

It’s a fancy word for dying. Why is it that we must make up elaborate words to describe horrible things in life? This is how I feel about this word: transitioning. 

My father in law has been in hospice care, in his home, for several weeks now. As Parkinson’s makes its last ditch efforts to slowly and painfully chip away at whatever life he may have left, we continue to hope that there are moments of peace for him. 

As his brain deteriorates further, we see the emergence of new symptoms that I have never observed with ordinary Parkinson’s. Things I would normally see in someone with other neurodegenerative diseases. He is now holding his left arm in a flexor synergy pattern, his left leg in an extensor synergy pattern. This is how people with severe strokes and end stage Alzheimers are postured. Many of my patients on the memory care unit when I worked in long term care looked like this. 

The extensor tone is extremely problematic. It makes him hold his leg at least a foot off the floor while sitting in a chair. And while this has been an issue for a while, the past couple of weeks have seen this spread to his hip and his trunk. If you put that all together, you can imagine that it’s nearly impossible for him to sit in a chair. He simply, uncontrollably, pushes his way out. There are medications that can help with this, but they also make him very sleepy. He sleeps most of the time anyway, so this side effect may not even be really noticeable. 

So this week, the hospice nurse decided that it was time for him to start staying in bed. The title of transitioning was applied to this stage of this game. After 2 instances of lowering him to the floor and one dependent lift into a chair in one week, I have to concur with this decision. We’ve noticed that he has a bit more energy to interact with visitors now, and that’s a good thing. And, yes, friends have heard the news, and they are stopping by to visit while they can.  

His appetite, once voracious, is waning. My mother in law is trying her best to keep him fed and hydrated, trying foods she thinks he will like and are easy to eat. Per her request, we brought him a vanilla milkshake last weekend. He didn’t eat a lot of it, but after a few sips, he made this really awful face. Clearly, he was having a brain freeze! Poor guy. But his loss of interest in food is another sign that his life is winding down. 

Who knows how much time we have left with him. But is it really him anymore? I don’t know. I just don’t want him to suffer. 

Is it better to know that your loved one is dying, that death is imminent? Or is it better to lose someone suddenly? They are both pretty terrible. 

This past weekend, we said goodbye to our neighbor and dear family friend. He had been under hospice care after a long battle with cancer, but his death was still rather sudden and unexpected. He didn’t go through that “transitioning” phase. 

His memorial service was held in a Baptist church. This evoked lots of strange emotions for me, from becoming unexpectedly sentimental over old hymns that are also among my father’s favorites to feeling uncomfortable and a bit at odds with my former life as a Christian, it was a bit overwhelming. It’s been several years since I have set foot in a house of worship. It also hit me that this was sort of a dress rehearsal for my own family’s pending loss, and it made my heart heavy. 

My time in the “sandwich generation” is beginning to come to  a close. The loss of a collective parent is just a start. Which means that I will soon become the other side of the sandwich, and not the middle. And I’m not so sure how I feel about that.

We were talking to another former neighbor’s son at the luncheon after the memorial service. He’s beginning his life with his fiance. I remember him when he was a little boy! So crazy to see that he’s a full fledged adult now. We talked about how young he still looks. I’ve always appeared younger than I am, so I can relate. But I assured him that even at 48, I still look for an older grown-up in the room and feel grateful and a little relieved that a “real” adult is there. 

It’s breaking my heart that my grown-ups are now leaving. Pretty soon, I will be that grown-up that the younger grown-ups look to to feel safe. This leaves me feeling anxious, bewildered, and a little bit lost. How did I get to this phase in life? It doesn’t seem real.

___________

After writing this post, my father in law took a turn for the worse. He is now receiving around the clock pain medications. We are truly ushering him into the next world, as comfortably as we can.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, Noxgear, and Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon 2022.

7 thoughts on “Transitioning

  1. It’s interesting that you would refer to transitioning as dying. I just wrote a blog post about this very thing. Transition. My grandmother (mother) passed away 6 months ago. The struggle has been real. I was her primary care taker for years. And now I feel as if my security is gone. I didn’t realize how difficult this transition would be. Peace to you and your family during this time.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. mylifeasarunner15.wordpress.com
        I hope this gets you too it…it’s nothing major I had not posted on it in a long time mostly because I had been busy with my grandmother. It’s had become a journal of sorts.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Anne, I’m so sorry that your family is going through this time. We are preparing to move my mom from independent living (with daily aides) to memory care in the coming 3 weeks. I realize that this is the beginning of an end, as well. Honestly, though, the thought of not being in the middle of the sandwich hadn’t crossed my mind until I read your observations. Hang in there, old friend. I too hate the word transitions as a euphemism for death but I do appreciate its use for those who are “death adjacent”. For those whose lives will never be the same after the loss, it truly is a transition.

    Liked by 1 person

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