Whenever there is a break from school or a summer job that one is not supposed to have a pet, Ike comes home to us. He sits by the coffee maker and has to have a top of some kind because the cats want to "play" with him. Mac got Ike in his freshman year of college and I am sure Ike has seen his fair share of antics.
As I spoke to this fish while making coffee this morning, "Oh hello little red fish", I thought about the upcoming holidays and plans that we have...the whole family and I felt a warm rush to combat that cold wind.
My job, profession, calling...ministry has been challenging lately. Just yesterday, I saw 6 patients and all were in one or another stage of leaving this earth. Some old, some young and all with families that profess to be ready...but caring for them so lovingly while they are here.
As knocked on my first door and walked in with my signature, "Hello, it's Terry, the nurse"...I took a breath and wondered what I was going to see when I went up the stairs. Would the patient be comfortable, would they be in pain, need more medication, have different symptoms? As I began my nursey routine, wash my hands, pull up a chair or sit on the floor in front of them, I noticed the smile on her face. She was doing really good this morning...didn't remember who I was, but was comfortable, fed and clean in her sunlit room with the TV on. She was doing just fine for someone who's days are numbered. As I visited with the caregiver, I realized that she was an amazing woman...caring for her family day after day and putting her life on hold. I left the house with a hug to both and went on my way.
As the day went on, I talked about pain medication, signs and symptoms of impending death, of letting the person eat whatever they want, letting the person not eat at all and held the bucket as my patient went through the cycle of nausea and vomiting. I rubbed his back as the tears ran down his face. I wrote out plans of how to medicate for shortness of breath...reviewed how to change a disposable "panty" and how to love them out of this world. I sat in kitchens, on floors, on my knees in front of the toilet, or my knees by the side of the hospital bed...wherever the care needed to take place. When I left at least three of the homes, they told me the loved me and I yelled back, " I love you too!"
When I drove to my last patient of the day, I tried to still my heart. The drive from one to another can be as long as 45 minutes and sometimes, I stop and get something to eat or drink on my way...depending on how the day is going. Yesterday, I stopped and got a giant diet pepsi with ice...thinking of my dear friend Mary Moon and her wise love...
When I knocked on the door, the husky that talks greeted me with a whole conversation. I hugged the wife and went downstairs to my buddy. He was in his chair seemingly perfect...not short of breath and denied any pain...until he moved. I got on my knees in front of his recliner and took vital signs, listened to lungs and belly, checked ankles...all the while listening to the plans for the holiday next week. We talked about what an amazing cook his wife is and how she is going to take care of him and have his kids cook.
Then, we began to talk about his kids. As with any family, there is always water under the bridge that may or may not be dealt with when someone is dying. A month ago, this family was stiff and measured with each other and trying to figure out how to get along. Then yesterday, as my patient was remembering how hard he hugged his daughter and how she melted into him and how good it felt, I smiled and realized all this "work" is worth it.
My job offers families invaluable gifts. The gift of time even though we know it's limited. The gift of forgiveness and reconciliation that leads to heartfelt hugs and love that wasn't the case before. Through misty eyes that made me look away, I thanked him and his wife for letting me into their home for a ring side seat to their journey of genuine family love.
You see, I get so much from this work. I learn things that make me ache and hurt and eat and drink...but I also learn that it is true that if you let go of what doesn't matter, love conquers all. Love can get you through the long nights of illness, the repeating thoughts of the sadness that lurks behind the scenes, and when it is said and done...memories of the love that was shared, worked through and completed.
So me and Ike talked...mostly I talked and he looked out the fish tank at me...
Anyway, I thought about last week, about my days off and about how much gratitude I have for my family...my crazy young adults and my husband...the time I have with them and what that means to me. I also uttered a prayer of thankfullness for my job...my calling...my ministry because I am so grateful to meet all of my patients and try to assist the families love them out of here. It's worth every moment of time to me and I can't imagine doing anything else.
What if we just let go of things we cannot change...history...sad feelings that impede our relationship? What if we loved each other for who we are and not who we wish they would be? What if we loved ourselves that way?
We are human and we do what we do...but what if? You think Ike, the wise fish has these answers? For me, this morning over coffee, he had all the answers...and I am ready to take on the day.
Enjoy your precious time with those you have...whether you love them or not because some day that precious time will run out...
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,