I knew you were dying before I ever laid eyes on you.
Arguably, everyone is dying, but, you were really dying.
I am a hospice nurse, it’s part of the job description.
You see, I play the part of the nurse and you play the part of the patient.
That doesn’t make this any easier for anyone.
It isn’t easy for your family, who would give anything for more time with you.
It isn’t easier for you, who full of uncertainty, don’t know just how this journey will go.
To be selfish for a moment, it’s not easy for me, either. There is just no humanly possible way for us to not get attached. I see you through the extremes of emotions. I dab your tears as I try to hide my own. Our laughs intermingle when something tickles us both. Trying to make you comfortable becomes my zeroed focus. I would be lying if I said I left thoughts of you at the door as I left your home.
But, during one of my treks this past week, as the radio was off, the sun playing peekaboo in the clouds and my thoughts rolled faster than the tires on the pavement. My patients have come in an array of ages. Some fortunate enough to lay eyes on their great grandchildren while others not even able to have sent their own to kindergarten. What basis do I have to even complain?
I have been relatively healthy. A bout with thyroid cancer in my mid 20s left me with a cool scar and a bunch of nagging symptoms that only someone without a thyroid understands. But, I have never had to really ache for my own mortality. Taken for granted are any possible thoughts that my tomorrows might never come.
Life has allowed be to taste the most extraordinary flavors it offers. Becoming a mother, watching my son grow and flourish and now seeing how he carves his path into this world. Letting go of him to be his own person has been so emotional but, I have been lucky enough to be here to see it.
My hardest patients, I have always thought, were those that wouldn’t be present for those events in life. That nagging ache of why causing a hole so deep and wide that it never seems to fill. But, once again, another lesson was just waiting out there… hanging on the vine for me to find.
He was 94. I do have to admit that when I first admitted him, he was so grouchy and ornery. As time went by, the facade faded and the beautiful personality evolved. He was old and scared. He had lived a life so full and so big that he felt it was fitting that this part of his life was quiet. We would talk about everything. His World War 2 service, his love of dancing and his married life. One day, he was examining his life and grabbed my hand “I just need you to know that when I go, I will always be around you… looking out for you.” Tears uncontrollably streamed down my face forming wet paths on my cheeks. “You taught me about real love,” he continued “the kind of love where you give everything and take care of me and I have nothing to give.”
No, my dear, that love lesson is a two way street. I sure hope you are keeping your promise. You did say you would always be looking out. There was just a way today that the sunshine felt today that made me feel like you were all around.