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PENINSULA ZOOMER: Grief is a complex, but inescapable, part of life

Pandemic has robbed many of a ‘good death,’ writes April Lewis

We’re all going to die.

That’s an indisputable fact.

As we grow older, we are well aware of our imminent mortality which has been exacerbated by the daily onslaught of the numbers of those we have lost due to this pandemic with its relentless grip over us.

My parents are gone as are all my aunts and uncles. My friends are now losing their husbands.

Death is inescapable.

But as one who spent most of my professional career working in palliative care, ICU and the ER, I am well versed in dealing with grief and the detritus which often accompanies it.

My goal was always to help my terminal patients die a ‘good death.’ A peaceful death, a quiet death with what we call closure.

People often asked me if my job was depressing. Not to sound righteous here, but the answer was no.

I felt it was a privilege to be a part of their final moments as dying is the most intimate of human experiences.

I always focused on what I could do to facilitate a gentle exit.

I have some amazing memories of people who touched my life and will never leave me.

Mark, my first AIDS patient. He was young and beautiful and was dying. I watched his partner walk away down the hospital corridor never to return. That chipped away at my heart.

I asked Mark what I could do for him and he asked me to track down his mother from whom he was estranged. I contacted her in northern Ontario and asked her to come to Richmond to be with her son. Upon her arrival, the first thing Mark did was open up his hospital gown to show me his porta-cath (an easier way to inject medications) and then he proudly introduced me to his mom.

When Mark died, I hid in a utility closet and wept.

His was a “good death.”

One late Saturday night, an elderly Peruvian couple came into my ER. The plan was for the husband to die at home, but often people panic at the last minute and call 911.

In conversation with the wife, I learned that their special song was Perfidia.

Now what are the chances of a middle-aged Canadian social worker knowing all the lyrics to this Spanish classic?

We all held hands as I sang, Mujer, si puedes tu con Dios hablar…preguntale si yo alguna vez te he dejado de adorar.

And then he took his last breath.

Maybe it was my discordant singing or maybe it was providence.

Regardless, it was a “good death.”

So my point is, we all deserve to depart this world this way, but this brutal pandemic has deprived us of this.

A couple of weeks ago, my ex-husband, the father of my two daughters, died alone in a local ICU.

Due to COVID protocol, my daughters were not able to visit him and say their goodbyes.

And now their grandmother, the mother of their father, after hearing the news that no mother wants to hear, is in another ICU in Victoria.

Due to COVID restrictions, they can’t get on a ferry to see their grandma, perhaps for the last time.

Nor can they scatter their dad’s ashes on Mayne Island as per his wishes.

Due to pandemic fear, one daughter, who is vaccinated, wouldn’t hug her sister, who is not.

As a mother, it was painful to watch.

This pandemic is preventing us from living a “normal” life, which I get, but it is also preventing us from dying a “normal” death.

A “good death.”

And that is cruel.

April Lewis is the local communications director for Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP), a national group committed to a ‘New Vision of Aging for Canada.’ She writes monthly.

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