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3 Weeks: How to Die a Good Death

Posted: May 10, 2017 at 9:05 am by , in A Public Affair, Featured

“That’s the only thing I don’t like about this growing old. And I hate it like the dickens, but I love love love that I’ve gotten into as much as I have to of it.”

On July 3, 1991, Claire Woodward was there for the very first breaths of KGNU producer Julia Caulfield.

“Anyway, oh, what joy that was…and then after just a little bit, the doctor came in, did all the pokes and prods and stuff, and said ‘well, it looks like this little gal can go home, she is in great shape” We were so happy, we were so happy.”

25 years later, Julia held her Nana’s hand as she took her last breath.

This is a story about her final days, the last three weeks of her life. It’s a story about what it means to have a good death, on your own terms, surrounded by the people you love.

Claire Woodward July 19, 1927 – Feb 2, 2017

Julia’s Nana, Claire Woodward, was born on July 19, 1927 in Bakersfield, California. She raised her family in Hawaii, but moved to Boulder County in 1975. Following the flood that damaged much of Boulder County in 2013, Claire was forced to leave her assisted living apartment, and then bounced from facility to facility.

But she was adamant to die at home. Which led to Julia, her Uncle Michael, her Mom and Nana all living together in a one bedroom apartment situated at the foot of the Flatirons in Boulder for the three weeks before her death. But after spending much of her adult life in Hawaii, the music of Iz Kamakawiwoʻole, Keali’i Reichel, and Olomana, often wafted through the house.

And early on that final morning, with a light snow blanketing the ground, Julia’s Mom, Annie, Uncle Michael, and Julia all sat around her bed.

“The three of us just sat around her, and held her hand, and maybe it lasted a couple more minutes, of sporadic breath, and then she had a couple very deep breaths at the very end, and then that was that. I mean, it just is kind of as natural as you can imagine. When you think about a baby’s first breath, and then just that breath that happens, however many times a minute, your entire life. I mean, how many millions, or billions of breaths do you take in a lifetime?”

“And then there’s got to be the last one.”

“And then that we were there for the last was really just extraordinary. It felt blessed. It did.”

Julia Caulfield and her Nana Claire Woodward

 

Weaving the narratives of Julia, Uncle Michael, Julia’s Mom, Annie and the words of Julia’s Nana, Claire, we hear what it means for a family to come together and to bear witness to the final days of a loved one.

We hear from hospice workers Nikki Haskin, a nurse from Suncrest, and Tomas Bayou, the Spiritual Care Coordinator for Suncrest, about what it means to die a good death surrounded by family.

“Dying should not be something we are afraid of, or we try to hide. The more that you accept that you will die one day, you’ll start living your life to the fullest, because you have a limited number of time. All of us. That could be a connection for me with my patients, if they are afraid, or they don’t want to talk about dying, I’ll bring myself to it. I will die too. And that gives acceptance to, we all die. It’s a lie, sometimes when you have young, able bodies, to act and walk like you will never die, that’s a lie. So when I accept that to myself, that patient will be okay to accept it too. Because it’s a common practice for all of us, we all go through that.” —  Tomas Bayou, the Spiritual Care Coordinator for Suncrest.