Letting Go

karen brockhoff

Hello from Menomonie and more specifically from Comforts of Home,

I began my morning developing school work for next semester at Caribou Coffee. It was productive on a number of fronts. The remainder of the day has been a roller coaster of decisions and trying to understand what someone who has entrusted me with her life would decide if she were me. The two seizures experienced this past week have taken a substantive toll on a body that is simply wearing out. Lydia has a terrible and deep cough, but no strength to make it productive. When speaking with her doctor today, her personal physician of 20 years and perhaps one of the most brilliant people I have ever met, he said simply, it is time to let her go. He told me that he was discontinuing all medication except her seizure prescription and something to keep her comfortable. We talked about what she had been through and how she would be so sad to see where is currently is in her fight for a quality of life. I know that it is time to let her go and I have known this day would come, but the cliché that it does not make it any easier is more than a simple adage. It is a truism. I noted in a previous blog it is about fearing the unknown.

I have often mentioned that I was not as actively involved in my father’s passing as I wished I had been (post facto). I felt this was my way to make up for that. I know that my move to Pennsylvania made that involvement more laborious, but I promised her I would (and could) care for her. It is not surprising that I feel I could always have done better at times. I wish I could have gotten back here more often. I wish the phone calls where I was reminded that “I lived in that damn Pennsylvania.” could have continued for a longer period of time. I know all too well the feelings of would or should are both common and fruitless. The past is exactly that and we can anticipate the future, but all we actually have is the now. That is why now I choose to be sitting in her room by her side. I will not leave her alone. She has been sleeping most of the day and her breathing is shallow, but she is still cognizant of what is happening around her. Earlier as I held her hand, she would not let go and her grip is still incredibly strong. She is also more than capable of giving you a look with her brilliant blue eyes that can let you know if she approves or disapproves. At this point, she is still sleeping in her bed rather peacefully. As someone who very seldom missed a meal here at COH, when we asked her at lunch if she wanted to eat, she told us quite emphatically, “NO!” I am sitting here and I have been working on school work and I have music from Pandora (a station of Johann Sebastian Bach) playing so she has a chance to hear something comforting. I am not sure what she actually hears and comprehends at this point, but I want to make her comfortable.

I wish I knew what was going on in her head and what she knows or does not know. Today the phrase, a phrase I know, “via dolorosa” was once again shared with me. For those who are unsure what this phrase means “way of agony, sufferings, or sorrows” and is the term used for the street on which Jesus supposedly carried his cross on the way to his crucifixion. Regardless the translation, it is part of the passion of the Christ and it is an apropos phrase as I watch this amazing woman, a brilliantly-opinionated, terrifically-stubborn, and incredibly kind-hearted person fade into the next world. I wonder if she, in her state, is able to connect with others she has loved in the past. This afternoon my former pastor and friend came to see her and he spoke the words and prayers for a small service called [the] Commendation for the Dying. It was important for  me, and it was interesting as he is fluent in German also, he did the scripture reading from Romans in German. It was wonderful to listen to it. It was also nice that Carissa and Leighann were both here for it and I think it was important to them. Lydia has had a string of visitors today both caregivers who are currently on staff, but perhaps off for the weekend, as well as former caregivers who no longer work here, but had some part in her care over the past three and a half years. What continues to amaze me about her is the significant impact she has had on so many people even in her time here, even somewhat tucked away in these past three plus years. I am certainly sure that when I first met her 10 years ago, there was not the slightest inkling that I would be the person sitting with her now.

She actually woke up for a bit and I sat on the side of her bed and held her hand. She patted my face and smiled. I told her that I loved her and I was grateful for everything she has done and she smiled. I told her it was time for her to go and see George and her parents and she answered, “yes.” She was smiling and I was crying. It was the clearest I have seen her eyes look in the two and a half days I have been home. I was not there when my father passed away, but I was there when my mother and my brother passed. I do not remember crying this much for them. Perhaps it is because I am older and life seems both more significant and fragile than it did at those points in my life. Perhaps it is because I am realizing, as I often do during the holidays, that when your family is no longer alive it is a very lonely feeling. I do realize that I have extended family and I am so grateful for them. I also realize how wonderful so many people have been to me. I am so blessed. I think sometimes we take so much for granted, and I again, I know that sounds a bit cliché also, but we are always forced to consider our mortality when we watch another lose his or hers, and I guess it is even more significant when those lost have such import into our lives. I had no idea as I mentioned earlier that I would gain another parent, one to take the place of the more than one set I have already lost. If I consider my biological parents, my adopted parents, and the surrogate parents that I have had in my life, that is quite the number of people. In some ways Lydia demonstrated a sense of love and care for me that, up to that point, I had never experienced in my life. It is still different than any other person from whom I have been gifted to receive their love. While many were frightened of her, I was reminded at dinner this evening, that I was able to accomplish things with her no one ever had. I still think my claim to fame might be getting her to ride on the Harley. I remember the first couple days I lived in the carriage house and I had taken garbage out to the front curb. I was walking back up the driveway and my garage door was closing (and I did not have the remote). As I almost dove under the door to get in, I walked into the house and the phone was ringing. It was Lydia letting me know that I had left my garage door open.  I told her I knew because I was walking back to the garage from the street. Then it dawned on me that she had a garage door opener for my door. I asked her if I could have it and she empathetically and succinctly told me no. . . . It is now about 7:45 a.m. CST on Sunday and I am back at COH. I finally went home about 12:30 earlier this morning and I did sleep. Lydia is sleeping also and it sounds like she had a peaceful night after I left. It was drizzling and freezing on the way home last night and it is dreary again this morning, but it was not too slippery. As I came in the room, I held her hand a spoke her name and she opened her eyes and acknowledged me with a bit of a sound. As I held her hand a bit ago, even today as she faded in other ways her grip is still amazingly strong. It took 3 or 4 minutes to pry my fingers from her grip. I do wonder if today will be the day. I know that some of her former colleagues are going to stop by today. Some of them have not seen her for sometime and I am afraid they will be a bit shocked, but she does look and seem peaceful. The one exception is a slight furrowing of her forehead, but otherwise she does not see to be fighting . . . and yet I wonder if she holds on to our hands so fiercely because she is still fighting before she finally decides to let go. I know from minute to minute I struggle and the tears come. All I want for her now is to have no pain and for her to pass peacefully. The stories I can tell, and have told, about Lydia are as numerous as the fingers and toes of all who might read this post. Even in the last moments she has a presence that few can match. Yesterday, in spite of sleeping and being pretty sleepy, a couple of times when they tried to give her some water to drink, she did not want it and batted it away. We ended up needing to change her sheets and comforter both times. In fact, the workers have told me they have never seen someone both fade so quickly and yet be so strong. She will be stubborn to the last, I am sure of it. Yet as I watch her from the chair next to her bed as I type this, her breathing continues to grow more shallow. I know that there is so much she has accomplished. I have pondered how she had to let go of so much in her life and she had to start over, but even then she had to let go from time to time.

As an Austrian in the Sudetenland, she and other Austrians or Germans were subjected to terrible treatment at the hands of the Czech government. Because of those decrees against those considered to be Nazi sympathizers, an estimated 700,000 and 800,000 Germans were affected by expulsions between May and August 1945. If they were German or Hungarian, they were stripped of their citizenships. The expulsions were encouraged by the Czechoslovak politicians and were generally carried out by the order of local authorities, mostly by groups of armed volunteers. However, in some cases it was initiated or pursued by assistance of the regular army. Ethnic Germans were subjected to massacres at that point. It was because of this impending expulsion and other inhumane treatment that Lydia and many others walked from the Sudeten area to Vienna. That is over 400 KM and Lydia and many others walked that path and it would not be like walking through North Dakota. She had to let go of her family. Then she eventually moved to London and let go of her country. In the early 1950s she moved to the United States as a newlywed and had to let go and start over again. When  George and Lydia came to the United States, they moved to the Chicago area and began their lives in a new country in a very different situation than they had been in. Between jobs and college degrees, they created an amazing life here. Eventually Lydia once again had to let go of a life she knew and she moved to Wisconsin to begin a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She had to both hold on to Chicago and her life there, but let go to move to Wisconsin. She was an independent person and knew how to manage pretty much every aspect of her life. She was both brilliant and determined.

As I sit with her today, she is sleeping most of the time. Former colleagues and friends have stopped by today. She did have her eyes open at moments, but I am glad she is sleeping and peaceful. A short while ago she actually opened her eyes and almost sat up and looked around. The staff has been wonderful with her and their care for me has been so kind also. A bit ago she opened her eyes again and I was holding her hand. I rubbed her forehead and told her I loved her. She smiled and struggled a bit to speak, but told me she loved me also. She then closed her eyes and then about a minute later she opened her eyes and looked at me and said, “Michael.” Then she closed her eyes again. I was pretty much a weeping mess after that. Now she is sleeping again. I want her to let go and I have told her it is okay, but I am not sure she has decided to do so. It is a sad thing to be afraid. Still, when she has held a finger or two of mine in her hand, the strength she still has in her grip makes me look like a weakling. It will take me a few minutes to pry my fingers out of her grip. I have been speaking with the staff and because they are much more adept at the signs than I am, they have helped me see things. I have been here since 7:30 this morning and it is now 4:30, so I think I might take a break, but I am so afraid I might leave and she will be alone when she passes. I do not want that for her.  . . .

I had someone come sit in the room while I ran to Caribou and Subway. I got coffee and goodies for the staff working and I got a sandwich for myself. I do not think Lydia has much fight left in her. She is sleeping most of the time, only opening her eyes if you ask something. I think I want to get this blog posted. I am going to try to catch a quick nap in the chair here in her room. I am hoping that she will perhaps be able to let go and nap in a more significant way. Thank you to everyone who has texted, called, visited, or prayed at this time. I am grateful. I am blessed in so many ways. I am humbled to be here to take care of this wonderful woman. She has cared for me and loved me. I am merely giving back for what she has given me. . . . an addendum: it is after 11:00 central time and I am exhausted. I think I am going to try to sleep for a while. A colleague noted she might need to be alone to pass. I will kiss her goodnight and pray “come Lord Jesus, and come tonight.”

Thanks for reading.

Michael

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