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,