Today I attended the funeral of my elderly neighbor, Mr. Q. I experienced some thoughts and feelings from his death and funeral that I found at times to be upsetting, surprising and then comforting.
Funerals are something I usually avoid when possible. I went to my father in law’s funeral this past year. It was a military funeral because of his service in the navy. Before this it had been 6 years since my husband’s funeral and five and a half years since my mother’s. Both had suffered from long term illnesses that affected their quality of life.
In both cases, I had been losing them over several years and had time to adapt to the fact that they would not be in my life much longer. I lost my mother to old age and Alzheimer’s Disease; my husband to the subtle and worsening personality changes that come with poorly controlled severe diabetes, mini strokes, and heart failure. I had time to mentally prepare for their absences from my life. It of course took longer to adapt emotionally and grieve for them. (My father died about 12 years ago with a stroke after years of Vascular Dementia.)
The neighbor, for whom the service was given, lived on the floor above me with his loving wife. Mr. Q. was an elderly, very intelligent, retired doctor. In the past year he had requested that I check his blood pressure on numerous occasions. He insisted on riding the elevator down to my home for me to check his blood pressure with his own stethoscope and cuff, even after his wife had checked it.
Truly I think he came to my place because he delighted in sharing with another medical person some of his stories and experiences from his pediatric practice. He was an Irishman with an amazing record for service and caring for his patients. Mr. Q truly relished telling stories from his life to anyone who would listen and I happily filled that role on several occasions.
Last Thursday evening I heard something hit the floor above me. I had no idea what had happened until someone beat on my door calling me to come upstairs to help. As the youngest resident of this building and a retired nurse I was the first person after 911 that they called for help. I found Mr. Q on the floor in a narrow space. He was non-responsive, not breathing and his color was very cyanotic.
It had taken at least three minutes after his fall before I arrived. I positioned him so I could administer chest compressions. After about three minutes EMS and police arrived and took over.
With the expert care, CPR, medications, IV, and entubation from the Emergency team, Mr. Q’s heart was beating again. But he was unresponsive. He never regained consciousness and three days later was pronounced dead. I felt terrible. As some of us do, who are or were nurses, I dissected everything I did wrong and berated myself for having failed to do better. Truth be told I have been out of nursing for 5 years.
A few days later Mrs. Q left a note on my door, thanking me for all I had done for her husband. I just about cried. How could she be thanking me?
Later that day we met and she hugged me and told me something that did make me cry. First she told me the doctor believed Mr. Q. had died instantly. Then she told me,”Thank you for starting the CPR when you did.” Because of my efforts the EMS team was able to revive his heart. This bought them two days to be with him and say good-bye.” I wept.
At the funeral Mrs. Q embraced me again and thanked me for my part in Mr. Q’s resuscitation. A little later I approached one of the daughters, whom I considered a very amazing and strong woman. She saw me and asked if I were the one who had helped her father. She said she was so glad that she could tell me how thankful she was that I had helped make those last two days possible with her father. She teared up and we both wept as we hugged each other.
I experienced a rekindling of the sorrow I felt when my father passed away after hearing the daughter’s loving summary of life with her father. The sounds of the bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace,” as always, started the tears.
Then came the folding of the flag because Mr. Q had served in the military. The precise, metered timing and care taken by the soldiers to fold the flag of the United States of America was stirring. The folded flag had its corners tucked and double checked that all were tucked in securely before being given to Mrs. Q. I was deeply moved as my father’s and father in laws’ wives had both been given a flag in like manner.
As a nurse I have always thought it best to let someone go quickly instead of letting them linger when there was little or no hope for brain recovery after a resuscitation. I now believe it is an individual decision to be made based on the family’s need to have time to say good-bye, but within reasonable amount of time.
In this case I feel sure that the family felt whatever the bills may be from the hospital, emergency team and doctors, that it was all worth it to have a few days of goodbyes and accepting that their loved one was gone. Mr. and Mrs. Q had been married over 50 years. Two days were priceless for the family.