death is always at our doorstep

Practicing Praxis – Lisa Albrecht’s once-in-a-while blog

Death is always at our doorstep, Nov. 22, 2019, Iowa City, Iowa

When we say that “death is at our doorstep,” we often mean that death is soon.  But death is part of the journey we are all on…every day.  I am learning that today.  I’m in Iowa City with Diane (in hospice), Jill (her partner/wife of over 30 plus years), Jorgito (their nine year old grandson whom they are raising [that’s another story]), and any guests –like me this weekend—who are coming to say “goodbye.”  I am part of all the wonderful people in their lives. Diane only “eats” fluids now, and so many friends come by with food – liquids, solids, everything to feed any one here.

Before arriving yesterday, my stomach hurt every day as I anticipated this trip.  I felt scared of visiting, of being close to death. I don’t feel that now. I feel close to love and deep care. Hospice is an amazing service.  Instead of Diane needing to call and visit all the different doctors who have cared for her during her long cancer journey of over 5 years, she just calls hospice.  Someone comes and coordinates whatever she needs in terms of care, pain and medicine.

If only healthcare in the U.S. provided this to all of us on our life journey.  But we know, health care doesn’t do this, unless we are lucky enough to have this kind of “coverage.” Coverage is an interesting word, isn’t it?

 My friend, Cindy, in the Twin Cities is on this same long journey with cancer. When I go home (tomorrow), I want to talk with Cindy about hospice.  She has been on a similarly long journey and she is also nearing death.

I’m 68 years old now and one year beyond my weight loss surgery.  I’ve lost an enormous amount of weight to help me live with osteoarthritis pain, and I don’t eat much and don’t enjoy food much anymore – kind of like Diane – I’m “dying” too, like all of us on life’s journey. Though I’m not at death’s doorstep–the conventional way of viewing death. I could live another 20 years, or two years, or fall and hit my head and die tomorrow.  We don’t know, do we?  On the plane ride, I brought a magazine I subscribe to here.  It’s Yes! – Journalism for People Building a Better World (Fall, 2019) – The Death Issue – How to have a Good Death.  Am I obsessing about death?  One of the articles in this issue, “7 Things People Forget to Do Before They Die,” has taught me the following:  1) Use the D-words; 2) Ask your health care providers questions about death; 3) Research your death; 4) Take advantage of the little things; 5) Let your loved ones know you’re going to lean on them for support when the time comes; 6) Think about what kind of legacy you want to leave; and 7) Consider a different bucket list.”

Diane’s hospice nurse was talking with Jill earlier today, and I learned that there are different levels of hospice care, and they are deciding on possible next phases, especially around levels of pain that Diane has. Death is getting closer.  Diane said to me yesterday that she wasn’t sure if she’d make it to x-mas.

Last night, Diane, Jill, Horgio and I  went to hear wonderful music and dance by Los Compasinos! –an amazing group of Los Angeles latinx musicians at the arts center at the University of Iowa. Diane used to work at the university.  Many of Diane and Jill’s friends came up to them and hugged them. They are blessed because they are connected to such a rich community. And all their friends make it clear that they are devoted to Diane’s family because of all the love she and Jill have always given to them. I was exhausted from all the love by the time the night ended! 

Today, at their home, I’ve spent time with Veronica and her partner, Bonnie.  Veronica, a white woman born in Austria, is a recently retired gynecologist. Bonnie, her African American partner of 25 plus years, used to work for the post office.  Veronica cleaned Diane & Jill’s kitchen, while Bonnie and I shared stories.  Bonnie grew up in Queens, not far from where I grew up but she was raised in the Black part of Queens and I grew up in a white Jewish enclave. Bonnie’s mother lives in Iowa City now and has alzheimer’s, living in a local nursing home.  Yet her mom totally remembered how to make sweet potato pie!  There are many people with Alzheimer’s who still carry long-term memories that are fabulous. Veronica, directed by Bonnie’s mom, made a wonderful pie. I just had a piece and it is delicious!

First Interruption:  I just got a call from Pat’s healthcare provider where she lives.  It looks like she has another UTI (urinary tract infection – common for older women who don’t move around much- like women with Alzheimer’s.) I still juggle Pat’s caregiving with the rest of my life.  We have to now make sure Pat gets her UTI meds and then we have to schedule a flu shot for her. 

Second Interruption:  Two really kind hospice doctors just arrived to care for Diane.  She’s now on a higher dose of oxycontin for pain, and they are deciding how best to relieve Diane of pain near the site in her stomach where she is connected to a tube that removes nasty stuff (that’s the best I can do to explain it). The tube gets clogged and the pain more intense.  They’ve decided to take Diane to the hospital tonight.  They will x-ray her stomach and find out what’s next.  She’ll stay there at least overnight. Jill is driving her soon.  Jorgito will do an overnight with a friend, and I’ll stay here with Baraka – sorry I haven’t introduced you to their wonderful mutt; they have a friend who picks her up every day and takes her to the country where she runs around for the day, and then she returns her home. Baraka just arrived; she’s my date for tonight.


Text from Diane Finnerty…24 Nov 2019…sent from her hospice hospital room, “be well, my dear friend, and I will be ready to greet you on the other side…Big love!”

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