Standing On A Chair

Telling it like I see it…

Rants from the Chair: The Death Watch/Final Thoughts on Dementia

In the spirit of my two most recent blogs concerning my ninety-year-old mother and her dementia, I’d like to talk about an important area regarding how her long-term, steep decline has affected those who have loved her. 

I call it The Death Watch. 

The Death Watch is a condition in which you feel a constant, underlying sense of pulsing anxiety.  A sort of ‘agitated depression.’  This is brought on by an awareness that your mother could die at any moment of any day or night, and an awareness of the excruciating pain you will experience when that happens. You find yourself running the scene in your mind, trying to imagine yourself not falling apart, but you know you will.  You pray to God it won’t be painful for her, because witnessing that pain will be just too devastating, so you vigorously visualize her just going to sleep.

I’m not saying The Death Watch permeates the entire day.  There’s so much life going on around me, I’m able to grab onto a ton of joy quite regularly.  But The Death Watch monster awakens at times and roars with mighty strength.

Like when you call her over and over again, and the line just stays busy.  You’re sure she’s lying there dead on the floor or something.  So you hop in your car and with your heart slamming in your chest, you drive like a maniac to her house, and you use your key to blow open the door in a panic, only to find her watching TV and sitting in wide-eyed wonder at your sudden appearance.  Well for God’s sake, she says.  I guess I left the phone off the hook!  Silly me!

Like when she gets into the car and drives, and you know she shouldn’t drive anymore, but she does because she chronically ignores your plea to give up the goddamn keys before she kills herself and a car full of children.  [That living nightmare ended a few years ago, I can say with immense relief.]

Like when you know how hard it is for her to get out of a chair without the help of someone who will pull her out.  Does that mean it’s possible for her to die right there, alone in the chair, because she can’t get out of it, and the phone is in another room?

Like when you walk into a room and find her face-down on the floor between the couch and the coffee table, unable to get up. 

Like when you get a call at work from a neighbor who says “your mother has fallen down in the middle of the street and is bleeding.  I think she needs a doctor.” 

Like when she catches a cold, which usually develops into severe bronchitis, sometimes the flu, and you just know she’ll die before any meds can kick in because her cough is so deep and constant, she’ll not be able to breathe anymore.

So what does all this really mean?  I’m thinking that The Death Watch is a condition which keeps us on our toes, makes us pay close attention, so that when the event does occur, we’re more prepared for it.  Perhaps the more we imagine and anticipate the pain beforehand, the less it will hurt in the end?

The problem with that, I’m told by those who have been through it, is no matter how prepared we think we are, we’re never prepared enough. 

We’re just flat-out not.

Remember, this is my take on the thing.  Just sayin’.


June 7, 2011 - Posted by | Death & Dying | , , ,


  1. My experience is that, along with the great sadness that lingers, there is immediate and blessed relief from the state of hypervigilance you are calling the Death Watch. I think you’ll find too that to some extent you have already grieved the loss of your mom because she is no longer the person she was. As I told you before, the whole experience left me pretty much nuts (anxious) and I’m just now, three years later, returning to the person I once was. Tis an ordeal…. God Bless!

    Comment by Becky Day Wilson | June 7, 2011 | Reply

    • You nailed it again, Becky. Thanks for your insightful response.

      Comment by standingonachair | June 7, 2011 | Reply

  2. Jill, I’m sure you must be in my head at times. I also think that Becky is right, that you have already grieved the loss of your Mom. I feel that I lost my Mom when she had a brain tumor removed in 1986, she lost her memory and had a personality change, so in that respect she has been gone a long time. The hard part now is living with this new person that is failing daily. I live with my Mom now and I can totally relate to the feelings of panic and dread. At least 4 or 5 times a month she sleeps late and when that happens I go crazy waiting for her to get up. I mean what if she’s not just sleeping late? I don’t want to deal with that. Oh, wait, I’m the care giver so I guess I will have to deal with that. It does make you pretty nuts, Becky, but look at the great company we have.

    Comment by Linda Wines Stokes | June 7, 2011 | Reply

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