Resolving Life Issues In Late Life Crises

I like focusing on wellness much more than illness!  To help others attain the maximum wellness they can, we provide “life recovery” services to women with life-limiting dysfunctions.  We have a rather stringent interview and intake process so that they know what to expect…. If one is ready to be transformed, then we are a hospitable place to begin that journey.  But not all that we encounter occurs in the substance abuse recovery residence environment.
I had a really interesting experience this past weekend.  I am in a caregiving role with a woman who had been a volunteer earlier-6 to 13 years ago with a women’s recovery ministry. She has no family and was widowed young. She experienced a hard childhood that included verbal abuse and neglect by her mother.  In her mature years she found joy in working with families in crisis and advocating for children in state dependency care.  As she became frail and needed assistance she reached out to me during a crisis and I took on the role of caring family for her.
She’s has had little need for medical care so no primary care provider of record until a recent illness that led me to take her to a community care clinic.  I visit her three or four times a week and and have a CNA who sees her three times a week for light housekeeping, bed changes, welfare check, and checking vital signs.  When slightly elevated blood pressure went up unexpectedly in the late afternoon, the clinic told me to take her to the emergency department of a local hospital for urgent treatment.  Six hours later she had script filled for hypertension.  The next day she seemed fine.  However, forty eight hours later, on Saturday, she seemed a little confused.  By 6 pm the CNA called and said she was hallucinating. I got there two hours later.  She was calm but with some confusion, seeing “people in house” we didn’t see, hearing music from unknown source… Her blood pressure was good. So I decided to spend night and watch her.
She talked to people all night.  There was a very strong spiritual sense of it to me as I listened to her.  She was giving someone the high points of her life, accomplishments, etc.   At one point she asked me if I heard the storm whipping outside…. It was a quiet calm night…. No storms so I knew it was something that she was experiencing in her mind and spirit.  This went on until about  3am, at which point I heard her ask one of the “visitors” in a bit of a harsh tone, “Who are you, one of his goats?”  Then she went back to talking to another one.  She said in a few minutes, ”That’s not fair! You’re not fair!”  There was a long pause, then laughter, followed by her words, “Oh, amazing grace!” And she began singing that song.  In a little while she seemed to think she was being told she had to move but after some further conversation with one of the “visitors” she said, ” I need the address of the new place so I can fill out a change of address form…….So I don’t have to move?  I can stay?….. Good!”  She began singing another hymn, Living For Jesus.   In a few minutes she began singing Silent Night.  Finally, she slept about 5 pm,  then awoke about 7. She seemed focused and coherent. I made coffee and toast and spent most of the day with her.  She still said she heard music off and on, but no one was in the house any longer.  She didn’t remember the night’s conversations but did remember a fierce storm. She couldn’t believe there had not been one.
It seems to me from our conversations and my observations that night, that she was working through what Erik Ericsson has described as the crisis of the last stage of development… end-of -life integrity, in which one asks herself, “Have I lived into my purpose and am I satisfied with my life?  Or have I failed to accomplish what I expected? Am I at peace with God, myself, and others?”   We talked Sunday and Monday some about her assurance of her faith and her sense of having done the best she could with the hand she had been dealt.  She asked me Monday, as she often has, “Why do you think God still has me here?”  She does pray for a number of people and has been a very generous person, not materialistic for herself in the least.  I told her that God still had need of her gifts here and that he enjoyed hearing her prayers and her worship of him as she had done Saturday night as she sang.  She said, “ Thank you,”  I didn’t get any sense of demonic presence, but I did get the sense she was being submitted to some kind of “court inquisition” and that the devil, The Accuser, perhaps, tried to impugn her as she presented her case.  His objections seemed to have led her to the exclamation about things being “unfair”….  After that statement it seemed as though someone had settled the issue and she was at peace, felt grace being received and had begun singing.

There were a few other “manifestations” near the end of that night, things that seemed to be winding down the evening’s events that she experienced as I sat with her and adjusted her covers and encouraged her to rest….. a light that she said appeared in the room, the appearance on her wall of two pictures, like a child’s drawings, that hung on her wall for a while, the sensation of water flowing down a wall and of the paint on the wall pulling away and bubbling out like wallpaper.  All of those hallucinations had resolved by the next day.  What memories deep in her psyche those illusions might have been connected with, I don’t know.  But the fact that she had had to give up a brain injured child at age 12 to state care because of her no longer being able to provide for his needs and having had no contact with him for nearly sixty years certainly factored into some of it, I expect.

She’s been her usual self since the weekend…. like it didn’t happen.   Was it a subconscious surrender of emotional issues, satisfying her spiritual standing with God and resolving the final crisis of life integrity?  I’ve dealt with demonic spirits before but this didn’t seem like that, though there was definitely a spiritual aspect to it that was clear and the devil did seem to be trying to challenge and unsettle her sense of peace within.

I had read a book called Final Gifts written by two hospice nurses years ago when I trained as a hospice volunteer.  It said people will give clues verbally and by their actions as they move toward their life’s end…. like they are closing out issues, giving away treasures, seeking closure…. Allow them to do so.  Be a safe and reassuring presence for them to do that inner work.  God will be present to help in that process.