Updated: February 23, 2014 6:13AM
Have you ever watched someone die slowly, day after day, hour after hour, right there in front of you? I have. It’s not a pretty sight.
Her name was Dorothy Creekmore, an 84-year-old Hammond woman who had terminal cancer yet who allowed me to shadow her for months until her final breaths.
“The good Lord will take me in his own time,” she told me at the William J. Riley Center in Munster, part of the Hospice of the Calumet Area program.
Dorothy, like many wives from her greatest generation, consumed life in sips, not gulps. Those sips became smaller and smaller each day as she withered away before my eyes.
On her death bed, literally, her creased skin hung loosely around visible bones. Nurses fed her tea through a straw, then a syringe. Like a baby at bottle time, Dorothy’s eyes locked onto the nurse’s without saying a word.
Hours later, after hearing a favorite Bible verse read to her, Dorothy died.
I think of her often and I did yet again while writing a recent column on 66-year-old Rayner Magee of Gary. Magee, who has Parkinson’s and suffered three strokes, is at Methodist Hospitals Southlake campus in Merrillville for serious bed sores, among other health complications.
His son and daughter contacted me, claiming he is a victim of elder abuse at the hands of his wife, who’s not their mother. She adamantly disagrees, saying she’s doing everything possible for a man on his death bed.
That column extracted passionate responses from both parties — Magee’s wife and his children, who don’t get along — as well as from many readers. Collectively, the responses create a telling mosaic, of sorts, about death, dying and those compelling hours, days or months in between the two.
“The point you made has really made me think: Is it just the signs of death?” asked his son, Curtis Magee, after chatting with me on my latest Casual Fridays radio show. (You can listen to that show at http://lakeshore
“I want to say thank you for portraying me realistically,” said Rayner’s wife, Sandra Magee, who’s been his caregiver for years. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the work you put into your column today and your word choices.”
And this was from the same woman who told me, “DON’T EVER CALL ME AGAIN!” when I first called her about this obviously touchy topic.
Readers also reacted unexpectedly, with many siding with the wife by recalling their frustrating care-giving duties with a loved one.
“Some end times are prolonged and very painful; he is obviously suffering,” wrote one reader. “His children, rather than helping him, soothing him, forgiving him, choose to call an agency. So much easier on their righteous minds. God help their empty souls.”
Gerald J. of Hobart said, “I find it disturbing that the folks complaining the loudest in this story aren’t engaged in the care and welfare of their loved one.”
On the flip side: “Mr. Magee’s children have every right to visit and help care for their father. They also should be able to voice their concerns for his treatment and well-being.”
Another reader asked, “Is this elder abuse or the true picture of death and dying?”
“The children are maybe having a difficult time seeing death. It can be ugly. All I can say to Mrs. Magee is to continue to do her best. Only she, her husband and God know the true story,” the reader told me.
Again, this reminded me of Dorothy Creekmore, a Baptist believer who rarely spoke of death and dying but, when she did, it came matter-of-factly, like talking about what’s for dinner. Talking about the Lord also came matter-of-factly, even at death’s door.
On Dorothy’s nightstand rested a large-print Bible, bookmarked at Jeremiah, the last scripture she ever read. Across the top of the page aptly stated, “The Broken Vessel.”
“Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the Lord.”
Dorothy died two days later. On a Sunday. The Lord’s day. Her favorite day.
Shame on me for too often thinking about Dorothy when it comes to death and dying, considering she was so full of life and living. She was so much more than her terminal prognosis, debilitating illness and lingering death.
Maybe this is something that Magee’s family should keep in mind, too.
Emotional blizzard ahead
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a sort-of weather forecast for the emotional fronts that sweep into our lives on a daily basis?
These forecasts would be similar to the warnings we’ve been receiving the past couple of days about Tuesday’s blizzard-like conditions and Wednesday’s polar vortex cold spell.
For example, “Partly depressing with an accumulation of showering rationalizations.”
Or, “A 30 percent chance of utter joy, clouded by a covering of jaded cynicism.”
Or, “A flash flood of either warm remembrances or pelting regrets, causing tearful precipitation into the evening.”
But no, life doesn’t come with such a forecast, warnings or predictions — just storm-fronts of drama that often blindside us and blind us.
Some snow-day options
Call your local parks department or visit their websites for outdoor recreational opportunities near your home, such as sledding, tubing, or snowboarding.
Visit that local bar or eatery you’ve been promising to frequent and share a snow day with strangers-turned-friends.
Unearth that book you’ve neglected for months on your nightstand. You know, the one covered with dust and good intentions.
Watch those worthless, mind-numbing TV shows that you would never, ever watch otherwise. Or catch up on all those shows that your DVR recorded the past few weeks. Then rationalize your guilty pleasure by saying there was nothing else to do.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.