My wife died of ongoing complications that developed from acute pancreatitis. After emergency surgery she was in the ICU and ventilated for six weeks. Her body was completely debilitated. She then spent another month hospitalized for intense complex care to bring her to a point where she could begin to rebuild her body thru nutrition and physical rehab. She then was at a rehabilitation facility for another month and a half trying to get well enough to come home. After four months in healthcare facilities she was still not able to eat right or self-mobilize. In short, her body could not and would not recover. During those four months she had repeated emergencies that threatened to take her life sooner rather than later. After all that time, she finally decided that she wanted to go home no matter what. We arranged for visiting home healthcare, and she came home after a long time away. I know now that she understood how close she was to the end, and she did not want to die without ever having returned to the home that we shared and experiencing at least a part of the life that she had before. Her mobility was limited and she had to be cared for in every way, but she was home. I did everything in my power and ability to make her life comfortable and satisfying. And she did her best to make me feel as if I succeeded. But the truth of the matter is that despite the nursing and medications and special diets and exercises, the only thing that improved was her spirit. After a month at home she finally found the peace and strength to go. She allowed me to she how much she was struggling and return her to the hospital. But this time she insisted that when the time came I must let her go. After four days I brought the family in, and three days later she was gone.
During the last days at home and the first day back in the hospital we talked and she let me know that she was tired and ready to go. I told her I was ready to accept it as well. I lied. Yes I wanted her suffering to stop. I wanted my wife's ordeal to be over, but I wanted a miracle of modern medicine to save her. I could not tell her that I wanted her to stay, when she was ready to go. I could not be that selfish. Instead I signed he DNR order and sat at her side and cried while she peacefully slipped away. I saw the relief on her face and the joy in her eyes as her body shut down and she could no longer feel anything. She did find peace in those final moments. And I feel peace knowing her pain and suffering are over. But I wish there had been a different way. I miss her so much.
One of the hardest things I have to deal with is the guilt I feel for not being able to keep my wife alive. It is an unwarranted guilt. But it still feels real. Objectively I know I did everything possible. Made all the right decisions, at the right times, but I still feel as if there was something else I could have done to save her. I keep going over the five months of her illness and decline, trying to find the moment where if we had turned right instead of left she might still be here. Of course I never find the moment. But I can't seem to stop looking for it. I kept a photo journal during her illness, hoping to show her after she recovered. She was unconscious or sedated so much of the time, and there was so much she did not remember. I never showed them to her because she never recovered. But now I go thru the pictures looking for something that would show me where I could have made a difference. And of course I never find anything. But once again, I can't stop looking. I have no guilt, yet I feel it. She always said she felt safe with me, but in the biggest fight of her life, I could not keep her from harm. I could not keep her safe from her own body. That is the source of my true guilt. I made a promise to her when we married, never to let harm befall her. It never crossed my mind that something could happen to her that I could not prevent or fix. I feel like I broke my promise. I can be rational and know that I did all that I could, but I can't stop the feelings of failure.
Her journey thru illness to peace was long but she got there. I know someday I too will come to find the same peace as her.