Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sometimes the tears just come...

For the people who know me or think they know me, I appear strong and even tough.  I am intimidating and as I lose my hearing, much louder than I should be.  Let's face it, I can be hard to be around.  

But often, when I walk into a home where there is suffering, whether it is due to physical pain or emotional pain, I try to slow down, be quiet and be comforting.  I pour out my energy in whatever way a family needs it and when it's over...I am so glad I did.  

Usually, a few days later, the tears come.  

On the first day after I have lost a patient, I am agitated and unsettled.  The world seems a little blurry and I think of the family.  I usually check in with a text or a phone call but I can tell in my heart that I want it to go away...like it was a dream that this person is gone and another family must grieve.  Usually when I come home from work, I snap at my husband...about the stupidest of things...dishes not done, house not staightened up, cat box unsifted.  After all this time, he understands...and offers me food, wine or to sit on the couch and listen to how things went.  I always seem to take him up on the food and the wine but don't always talk about the experience...lest I begin to feel too much too soon.

The next work day, I go back...seeing patients and offering comfort and plans for them.  I never mention my losses and soldier on.  It actually helps me to know that there are still folks that I could help...families that need me and I can respond...so I keep going.  Those after days are hard, not hard in the way a family member feels it when they lose someone but hard in a tender, mushy way.  Hard because although this is a job, it is so much more, and hard because I have a ring side seat to broken hearted people every day.  

When we walk into our office, it is always apparent when one of our nurses spent the night with a family at a death.  We look exhausted, disheveled usually as the phone rings and we throw on our yoga pants and sweatshirt, wash our faces and run out of the house.  When the sun comes up and the goodbyes are said,  we go home, shower and start the day over with the living.

That's how my weekend was...a long night and then a long day with a family.  It was exactly how it was supposed to be.  I checked in on Monday and they were doing the things all families do...gather in and figure out how to go on.  So that's what I did.  I checked on my patients, called doctors, rejoiced when pain medications worked, told funny stories and drove lots of miles.  

Then came today.  I woke up unsettled and went to the gym.  I was so pleased to be back exercising after my injured back and thought that the physical activity would soothe me.  It did for most of the day until I got home.  I sat on the couch and started thinking...about the weekend, about the family and the grief, about how tired my soul felt.  I decided to look at facebook and try to enjoy everyones snapshots of the good life but saw the turmoil over the school board.  I just became more agitated.  All the while, willing myself not to start the tears that always eventually come.

I begrudgingly made dinner and visited with my Howie.  Every time he had a different opinion than me, I bristled angrily.   It wasn't him, it was me.

Then, as I held it together through putting the dinner on the table and reciting our dinner prayer...Jim looked over at me and asked me what was wrong.   "Are you okay," he asked, "You seem like you are upset."  That was all it took...I blinked back my tears and chewed my chicken trying to pull myself together.  I am stronger than this I thought and I'm not that sad anyway...it's my job...but the tears flowed.  

I am sad and I guess it's a good thing to let it go.  It was hard and is hard to watch families care for the people they love and while they get to be at home in the end, being loved...it is heartbreaking.  As much as I put my wall up and "soldier on"  my heart becomes softer,  mushier and the armor of my protection cracks.  I almost always cry with families but not like I want to...I want to wail with the them for the pain that they are feeling and are going to feel as time goes on.  But I can't and I don't.

 So I wait a few days and snap at my husband and son, and then when it looks like I've made it through without the tears...they flow and surprise me with the intensity and depth of the sadness. Then,as they subside I can feel the healing in the corner of my soul so I can go on and care again.

You see, sometimes, I think I am superhuman.  I can care for the dying, not sleep much, care for my family and anyone else who will have me and just go on.  Sometimes I even challenge my 6'1" son to a wrestling match because I think I can take him..."Come on Howie, you wanna go?" 

But we are all human, not superhuman.  We can do many things but not at once and everyone becomes tired and sad when confronted with lifes challenges.  Even the ones that do it as a job, a ministry or their life's calling.  We are all human and so sometimes the tears just come...

Thanks for the peace the writing gives me on days like this and for the folks that read it...

We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I want to protect the kids...

I am sure with the title and all that is going on in our city, you thought that this blog would be about free speech and censorship and protecting our rights.  I guess, in a way, it is...

This has been a banner week for admissions to hospice care.  One on Monday, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday...and another possible tomorrow.  When I admit a person to hospice care, it means that they have been told that they have less than 6 months to live with the health problem they have been dealing with.  For some it means they can settle down and just be...stop the fight and turn to living the best way they know how.  Usually it means new medications that they can take as they need and an end to the pain that has been part of their lives since they found out they were sick.

The patient that I admitted earlier in the week has been very sick for a long time...not eating, not doing day to day life and just lying in the bed trying to recover from the chemo side effects that were sapping his energy.  When it was time to see if the chemo was working, the scans showed that it was not...the cancer was still there and bigger than before.  The doctor said those words that no one ever wants to hear..."I think it's time for hospice" and they called me.

When I sat at the kitchen table explaining what we do and how we do it, the patient politely excused himself and went to lay down.  He denied pain but the body language and look on his face told me different.  I could tell he was in pain but it was hard to discern where the physical pain ended and the emotional pain started.  It was just easier to lay down and try to sleep.

After he went to bed, the wife and I talked about the family...kids, how many and what the plan is for them to come and see their dad. The wife was hesitant and wanted to make sure the kids didn't have to "see him this way" for very long...how she wanted to shield them from this whole "situation".

Being a hospice nurse and a guest in a persons home is a fine line. It is not up to me to tell a family how to love a dying person or what they should do.  My job is to help the patient live the best days he or she can with the knowledge and medication we have.  That's it...to be kind, loving and support the family and patient WHERE THEY ARE IN THEIR JOURNEY.  But, if you know me at all, sometimes I can't hold back and honestly, this was one of those times.  

You see, life is hard and death is hard.  Honestly, it's all hard.  Being here and living day to day with illness, worry, loneliness, fear and whatever we live with is hard.  Sometimes it's unbearable and sometimes we all use things to help us get through the day.  I would call you a "fibber" if you say you have a perfect life.  These hard times are when we find out who we are and most of us surprise ourselves with our strength and ability to keep going.

I told her that...when we just cling to our families and love them thought the difficult times the light shines thought the darkness.  When they love their father with care and time, while the most difficult thing they have done up until now, will provide them memories of comfort and peace as they travel the road of life.  I always say, "when you have had the worst thing you can imagine happen to you, like losing someone you love, and survive...you can do anything."  And I believe it.

When I was 31 and my mother lie in the hospital bed in the living room dying, I thought I couldn't imagine anything worse.  But...I sat with her and changed her and made sure she was comfortable.  My whole family did...we knew that she was leaving us and we knew that in a few hours our hearts would be broken in a way that would never be the same.  We all wanted to run away and hope it was a bad dream...but it wasn't.

I called Jim in the very early morning of February 1996 to tell him I was motherless and that I wouldn't have a mother to tell the stories of her grandchildren.    He comforted me from 2000 miles away and told me that it would be okay...eventually time would make the pain duller and I would be so glad I went and took care of her.  At the time, it seemed like he was just saying words...that this deep pain would never subside.  Then, in December 1996, when my Howie was born and I wanted to call her...the stab in my heart was there but mixed with the joy of new life and the comfort of knowing I did the best I could for her at the time.

As much as we want to shield our kids from the hurts of life...we cannot.  We will all die, all get sick, all have bad days that we wish we behaved differently.  The only thing we can to is show them how to get through those times, with humility, grace and love and sometimes honest to goodness anger when it all gets to be too much. 

I told this wife who is losing her husband that she did something right to have her kids fly in to help her...and want to stay.  She raised them right...with the compassion and hearts to bear the burden of grief and loss with her...to cry with her and her with them, to love their daddy out of here through the darkest moments of her life and theirs...and then to love each other enough to be family when its them...just mom and the kids.  

I have always wished that my kids would not know hurt and broken hearts...but now I wish them the wisdom to know that time will dull the pain of the hurt and broken hearts and also, the way you care and love each other during that time will provide incredible comfort as well.

As our county marches for history to be told in books as it was, it made me think about how we all try to change history in our own lives to make it more palatable.  But like in the history of the country and the history of our lives...it is what it is and how we respond to it is what makes our lives what they are.

Love your family tonight and,
We'll tawk tomorrow.
I love you all,

Friday, September 5, 2014

The right way to die...

Signing up for hospice care is a big decision.  Most folks sign up and decide they are okay to stop "seeking" treatment and think that since they are not treating their condition/cancer, they will die...and they hope that it comes quickly.

If you are getting blood drawn and levels told to you and you drive many miles to sit in a chair to have chemo dripping in your veins...you may think that you will leave this earth quickly because you are not doing the things to stay alive.  If you take only one pain pill because you might get addicted even when you still hurt alot and could use two...after you get comfortable, you think you may die quickly.  

Here's the deal...you may, but in most cases, you may not.  As a nurse that cares for the living and the dying...I honor what you think you need to do and what you think will happen but honestly, life as in death...things don't always happen as we think they will.

I have a patient that is young and he is very sick with cancer and he was supposed to die 6 months ago...looked terrible and thought it was over.  Then, they changed things around and he is still here, living his life as he sees fit, loving his young wife and living every day.  

I tell my patients..."You can always die, you have cancer/illness that can take you...but for today, you might as well live."  And they do...and they do it well.  I can't change the diagnosis but I can help that person understand that the time they have is theirs and theirs alone...and there is no right or wrong.  

I thing most folks entertain what the end of their life will look like...how they are supposed to die.  I love that movie, "Grumpy old men" when the guy dropped dead and Walter Mathau said..."Lucky bastard" because he didn't know it was coming.  I think that's how I want to go but I know I will probably not go that way!

Anyway, I'm here to tell you that there is no right or wrong way to die...only the way that you do it. When you get that diagnosis and fight the good fight and decide you want to stop the fight and accept, the fight is over but life is not...the living is not.  It's changed and the focus is making the most of every minute with who you want to.  You become the director of your time... If you wake up one day and can't stand the thought of being awake dealing with your life, you choose to take the day to sleep.  Because you are tired, sad and need a mental break...just do it and languish in the comfort of your bed with whoever you want in bed with you and dream sweet dreams.  If you need to get your life in order...do it. Then, you get to rest in the comfort that all is in order for when you need it to be.  Some folks are stoic and don't want to miss a second of time because they need pain medication...okay...but I know when they really need it, they have and will give themselves permission to be comfortable.  Then there are some folks who want and need a dose every time they can have it and that is the right way for them to handle the pain and cherish the time they have.

I am thinking of this tonight for a couple of reasons...I am so lucky to care for folks in their homes...and be with them in the most difficult and intimate time of life.  I get to encourage them to live without limits, to remember who they really are and who they really love...authentic feelings that come when we know time is limited. 

Because I have this honor, it makes me more aware of my blessings, the profound moments in my life and the things that don't matter.  I am one lucky old broad.

So this weekend...love your people, look deeply into their eyes and drink in the moment...laugh at silliness and cry at the sadness...feel it all because we never know when our time is limited and we wish we did that all along.

Just do it!
I love you all...and I do,
We'll tawk tomorrow,

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My kind of church...

Last weekend, a group of us trundled up to the mountains to attend a campout.  It was billed the "Evergreen Lutheran Labor Day Campout" and it was advertised in the church bulletin.  I was the organizer and I worried a little bit about how it would turn out.  

For starters, the weather was pretty bad.  We were in a beautiful spot on a lake but it was cold, rainy and foggy.  The families that signed up had little kids and we were all in tents.  That can make for a difficult and unpleasant time.

The hikers

As the crowd gathered on Friday night, I started to get excited because we had all (or I should say) most ages.  Our youngest camper was 3 and our oldest camper was mid 60's.  We had young parents, school agers, high schoolers, and college kids to round out the group.
The ladies at the pool

We were all a little anxious about how this campout would go.  The group was so diverse, the weather so wet and what we had in common was church...the fact that we had faith.  Whether is was a "weekly attend church faith", or a "I loved the campout last year" faith or the " Terry begged the family to come" faith...we had our church in common.  

The fire was started around the camp fire and the camp chairs began to fill the circle.  The snacks and drinks began to be shared and the smore sticks were unpacked.  The next thing we knew, the guitar was pulled out and the soft guitar music began while everyone relaxed.  As the night progressed, the little ones found laps other than their parents to the delight of us old folks.

Jim and  his little buddy

At one point that night, I looked over at my friend with my heart so content...a roaring fire for warmth and young and old alike visiting, connecting and being together.  My buddy, Sheryl, who has a heart like no one I know said, " this is church" and smiled.  Funny, I was thinking and feeling the same thing.  

I think of the love of my God similar to the deep love that I felt when I had my kids.  The unending love that we experience with the most precious of times...like those moments on the campout.  

If you were there, you felt it at times.  Maybe not when it was so cold in the morning waiting for our coffee or when the smoke was burning your eyes, or when your feet were so cold in your sleeping bag that you wanted to go home...No, not then.  But I bet you felt it when you looked over and saw your little boy sitting on one of the big boys laps, or when the duo was playing their guitars and singing or when I got to have the sleeping boy snuggle into my lap for warmth...Nothing flashy but spiritual and profound.  I always feel what I sense of the love of God in connections with people, time spent heart to heart even when it is subtle.  Those are the times that stir my soul and fill my tank for all the other times in life when things are hard.

The nice thing about this weekend is that we got together because we attend the same church.  I don't know if we would have if we didn't have a faith or a quest for a faith in common.  I also don't think you have to go to a church to have times like these...but I'm sure glad that we do!

The gang 

Thanks for the memories and the wonderful weekend.

We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,