Mother has what they call the death rattle.
Every time she takes a breath there’s a rattle. Technically it’s congestive heart failure: the fluid around her heart is building up and her body can’t process it, so it’s filling up in her lungs.
I remember when Mother said she had that little kitten in her chest. She always was funny.
I keep going back to this book, How We Die, by Dr. Sherwin Nuland. It’s been my Bible lately. He’s guided me these past few months with his insight and depth into not only the process of death but its ramifications for the living as well. There’s so little out there on how to do this. I need to know the physical side in order to grapple with the emotional and physical aspects of how to be with a loved one as she leaves this earth.
When I go to hold Mother’s hand or lift it, it’s lifeless. It may be warm, but it’s deflated the way Daddy’s was after he died. Dehydration has caused her skin to pucker and gather over blue and swollen veins. I wipe each hand with a warm cloth. I wipe her neck and chest, her cheeks and eyes, ears and hair.
It must feel good to her. It feels good to me.
No one’s here and that’s the way I like it, to be able to wander in and out as I need to, to pray, cry, talk, sing, and leave the room when I can’t take it any more. I turn on the TV and hope for something funny, anything funny. I ramble down to the river and write, but I’m too anxious to sit and go back in. I’m going to take a bath. I haven’t made any calls today.
Everyone’s just going to have to wait. I’ve done quite a bit.
I just want to be quiet and let it happen, not make it happen.
(Excerpt from Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir)
This is what it’s like at the end. You don’t fight when the death rattles come. It sounds like an old-fashioned, out-of-date term, but it fits.
When I first heard of the death rattles, it was probably from some scary movie and it conjured up all kinds of terrible things. It wasn’t easy, sitting there, not “doing” anything. It was a time of being. Not doing.
In some ways, it’s a good sign. It’s a sign to let go. It’s a sign to stop fighting. To sit quiet, to kiss, ask forgiveness, and say good-bye.
It’s nothing to be afraid of. When it comes, it comes. When it’s here, you’ll know what to do.
I cleaned out mother’s room–made it less cluttered. Called her relatives and told them it would be soon. I began to make plans for her memorial. Gather pictures to make into a collage and presentation. I was over fighting death. It was time to allow the transition.
The death rattle also refers to a gurgling sound that comes with the last breaths, or even the sounds after death that the body produces–it’s the fluids that have built up in the lungs, throat and body cavities. It’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s just biology. We as a modern society know so little about death and dying and grieving that we’ve made things scarier than they need to be. We have so little experience being human–and sharing in this most sacred event.
Nothing and no one can prepare you for this day. You think you’ll panic or run, but you won’t. You’ll be too tired and too numb to get too worked up. You’ll also know it’s time and you’ll want to be there. If you have to run, that’s okay. No one should judge you. This isn’t a bravery contest.
The machines are usually turned off at this point, those who need to say good-bye have come and gone–or stayed. All the fuss is over.
It’s not about giving up as much as it’s a time of giving in.
You’ll be grateful that your loved one’s suffering is almost over.
You’ll be grateful that as heart wrenching as it is, that you’re there–witnessing this most holy event.
~Carol D. O’Dell
Check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humrous and Heartbreaking Memoir
available on Amazon
Family Advisor at www.Caring.com