Her brain had no trouble accepting what was happening but her emotional heart took longer. The love of her life for over 45 years of marriage was dying. The doctors had warned that he might become confused and agitated as his condition deteriorated. He was comfortable and the pain relief had taken a few days to optimise. He was more relaxed and then deteriorated. He became less lucid as we neared the end of the week.
A clash of cultures became evident thanks to some of the visiting friends of the family. “You have to ask your doctors if they will give infusions to your husband. In China, he would be having lots of intravenous fluids, and other treatments such as tube feeding.”
We had to explain that artificial hydration would be too much for the dying person to handle, and would worsen skin swelling and likely worsen his breathing. We did not want to add to his already heavy burden of symptoms. His wife indicated she understood our rationale. We explained he could die at any time.
Intellectually his family could accept the ongoing bad news, but when it came to emotions it would take much more time. Their loved one was dying and all they wanted to do was to help but didn’t know how to. Mouth care was a task that we delegated to them. Our counsellor was asked to talk to the family.
Their brains understood the words we shared, but their emotional hearts couldn’t understand the language and operated on feelings instead.