Labor Intensive

When my children have those landmark birthdays, I tend to spend some time reflecting on the days they were born, moreso than in other years, and so yesterday I considered where I was in childbirth at a certain time of day. I remembered that relaxing seemed counter-intuitive, even though I knew that was the purpose of the Lamaze technique I had studied so purposefully. I succeeded in relaxing from the waist up, by which I mean my arms were loose and limber, but my legs were clenched right to the end.

In the afternoon, I got a call asking me to come to the hospital and sit with a church member whose mother-in-law was dying. We sat beside the bed and watched her breathe, touched her hair, stroked her hands and feet although they were under the covers. We celebrated their relationship, for when I first visited with Mrs. C, she described Younger Mrs. C as her daughter, not her daughter-in-law. We rejoiced that a granddaughter had been in to visit while Mrs. C was still aware, bringing the news that a great-grandchild is on the way.

The staff had predicted imminent death as early as 9:30 that morning, but here it was 4:30 in the afternoon. Was she waiting for someone to come, or waiting for us to leave?

We talked about how dying is hard work, just as birthing is.

Breathing came hard yesterday. There are no tricks to take the mind away from the task at hand, no training that prepares us for breathing our last breaths, no experience that approximates sitting at the bedside and wondering if this gap in respiration is the last one. You begin to watch the pulsing of a neck vein in the silence.

And you talk of what a hard worker this beloved woman was, how she seems to be giving the same effort to her ending that she gave to everything along the way. It’s hard to take your rest when you aren’t accustomed to it.

I went home to feed the children, then returned to the hospital to sit with the Mrs. C’s again. The shifts changed, and about 7:30 the evening nurse came in, touching Mrs. C gently and telling us she had nursed her the previous night as well. It was a gift to see her caring action and hear her kind voice. Prayers had been said already, but the nurse’s arrival gave Younger Mrs. C the permission she needed to go home.

“Don’t do anymore than you absolutely feel you must,” I whispered to her as I said goodbye.

Her labor complete, Mrs. C died a few hours later.

12 thoughts on “Labor Intensive”

  1. Bless you all. This was so touching. I wasn’t with my dad when he died, but he was really aggitated just prior to his death – I think he was mentally searching for his passport- when he ‘found’ it – he could let go.
    And then he was gone.

  2. I’m glad you are their pastor and that they are your people. Thank you for loving her as she let it all go.
    Your post made me weepy. I know how it feels to be a part of the end times.

  3. Bless you.
    One of the most helpful books I read about childbirth mentioned the Zen (I think) concept: “Do nothing extra.” That’s exactly the gift of wisdom you gave to her. Speaking from the childbirth end of things, it was definitely the gift I needed in that moment as well.

  4. It really is amazing to be with someone at the end. Our bodies really don’t want to shut down so very easily after breathing and beating all those years. At the same time, it’s such sacred time to share that in the life of another human being. I held my MIL’s hand a year ago in April, and talked to her to let her know we were there and that it was OK to go on and rest. I won’t soon forget the very moment of that last breath, and I am glad we were there to help her pass over.

  5. My grandfather waited for my grandmother to get back from a hospital cafeteria breakfast before going on.
    My mother-in-law waited until my husband could haul himself and his 7.5-month-preggers wife (that would be me) from L.A. to Tampa before she went.
    My great-nephew, after a 5-month struggle attempting to overcome being born at 25 weeks’ gestation, waited until his mom and dad could dress him in his finest and cuddle him before he gave up the fight.
    The above grandmother did NOT wait for my mom to make the five-minute drive from her house to the hospice. She was a cantankerous old biddy.
    Most people do wait.

  6. My mother waited until my dad was safely out of the house with me, and she was alone with the nurse, before letting go. It was just like her, both showing concern for him and maintaining privacy for herself.

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