January 15, 2011
This is the first morning I am writing my journal on the computer. My first spiral notebook is filled since beginning in November. I am a bit skeptical about not handwriting, but I can’t afford the time it takes to move from paper to computer if I am going to share this. As of today’s date the Grief Reflection blog is still a goal. There is back fill of all the posts I must do.
Grief Reflection: I sat with my 93 year old hospice patient Miss M. yesterday*. I sat and beaded. She is now my assigned patient rather than my support for her project. I last saw her January 3 to take her to the bead shop for more beads. Her crosses were so popular that others wanted some too. I was sick last week so couldn’t go help her start the new crosses. Then I received a call from the volunteer coordinator that she had a fall, is declining and perhaps I could spend some time with her as her daughter has her hands full. Wow, what a difference a week makes in one’s health: from our outing earlier in the month to bedridden, oxygen and little response. I doubt she knew I was there, yet I know that being there is comforting to all. I let her know I was there and then began to bead the crosses.
The oxygen tank makes a steady, rhythmic noise. I wanted some soft music as chattering away didn’t seem appropriate. (Leah, if you find yourself taking vigil at my last days or hours, please turn on some music for me!) For the 2+ hours I was there, she slept quietly. Similar to having a newborn in the house, I look to see if she is breathing – just to reassure myself. Occasionally, I found myself thinking about Dave, my dad, lung cancer, and oxygen tanks. Rather than feeling upset, sitting with Miss M. reminded me that there is a lot – a lot!- of life and living still for Dave and me. I realized that sitting in the room with one near the end of life is one of the most privileged moments. As Miss M was gently prodded to awaken by other caregivers coming to check on her, to which made noise but didn’t open her eyes, I thought about how powerful the moment when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords opened her eyes since the senseless shooting in Tucson last week. The hope. The relief. The HOPE.
I remember the feeling when I knew that Dave was going to be all right after his bout with meningitis. And it was just a feeling, because those first small signs – muttering, opening the eyes, or small movements – can’t be enough on their own to prove the person you know is still inside the body. Yet I knew the signs indicated he’d be all right; he’d be the person I know. Maybe we feel when the opposite is true, too. How people we love begin to step into another dimension.
The natural progression of life is death. That doesn’t scare me. What scares me is violence, abruptness, senseless loss, death before its time. But hospice work goes through a progression, somewhat predictable and thus for me is very comforting.
As I’ve sat with a few during through last weeks, or days, I look back and see that I have a routine to say “I was here.” It is to wash the dishes! Some patients I’ve seen once, some I have seen enough to learn about vignettes of their lives. I don’t expect the families to remember my name in years to come. I like it that way. But maybe for a moment the family member will see the stack of clean dishes, have a few more minutes to be by the bedside of their loved one and think, “Good, I don’t have to do that.”
I washed the few cups in her small sink. I left Miss M. with a beaded cross hanging from her lampshade. Perhaps the light will bounce off the facets and bring her a few seconds of recognition. I hope to see her Monday to sit and bead again. She is a trooper! But if not, I know that I’ll finish the crosses, and she can say “Good, I don’t have to do that!”* Names, initials, age and other details may be changed in order to respect and protect hospice patients and their family’s privacy.