Thursday, November 26, 2015

No experience is wasted...

I sat in the comfy chair in the room where her husband is dying.    I mean, he is not imminently dying but has certainly slowed down.  I visit him twice or three times a week and we sit and talk about life, about the good things, the bad things and how things always shake out.

As I care for her husband, this lady cares for me. In the last 6 months, she has been teaching me about marriage and family at every visit.   When I ask the secrets of a long and happy marriage, she is brutally honest and talks about the good times, the hard times, the times when she would have thought that she wasn't going to make it...and then now.  She always ends the conversation with, "And now, knowing what I know, I wouldn't change a thing." 

Yesterday, as I sat in the chair, we talked about the changes coming and what she is doing.  It was a little tearful because, honestly, while a person is ready for their loved on to die...they are not.  She acknowledged that and then offered her wise counsel..."No experiences are wasted".  I asked her what she meant by that phrase and she told me about all of her times in life when she did things she didn't plan to do and how she learned from them.  

Then, we talked of gratitude in the every day, and how she believes that there is something to be thankful for even in the darkest of times.  I talked of how a lot of times, I can be a "glass half empty person" and she had a hard time believing that.  But I can be and because of who I am, for me, the glass can be half empty.  Once again, she urged me to see beyond myself to all the gifts I have.  

As we sat in the room, I asked her husband as he lay quietly with his eyes closed if it was okay to stay and talk, since I thought maybe we were disturbing him as he slept.  He opened his eyes and said he was happy to have us there and to keep talking.  I looked over for a long time and thought about his wife and him.  They have been together for 60 years...caring for each other and sometimes not but always a team in good and bad.  They have grown children and grand-children and are caring for each other as the time clicks away.  

Wow, talk about experiences...

Then today, I visited a patient that does not have very much time left.  Being here for Christmas will be a stretch and because the pain had become unbearable, staying her isn't a priority.  The priority is relief from pain and good time.

Yesterday, I changed all the medications around and wrote them down and made a check off sheet to make sure that the plan was followed to a "T".  Then I hugged the caregiver and prayed silently that this was the answer for comfort.  Because the patient was hoping for the best, a new plan made sense...

Last night, I called to check on the patient and make sure they had no questions and on the phone, she sounded better.  I went to bed last night very hopeful and praying for pain control.

When I arrived today, the feeling in the house was peaceful, and I could tell when I walked in the bedroom that the changes had worked.  She was smiling, ordering her family around and moving her legs effortlessly.  I wanted to cry...from relief and from answered prayers.  I got in the car and sat for a few minutes thanking my God for pain relief and good time for what I know is going to be the last Thanksgiving together.

In the last 5 years, I have watched people have incredible experiences, and many that they would have rather gone without.  Many have to do with caring for a loved one at the end of life in a known situation or one that has been thrust upon them quickly.  The courage and love I experience every day as I walk with these families is amazing and humbling.  I often wonder when it is my time, will I have the capacity to love and care like these folks.

So on this Thanksgiving eve, as I sit on the couch with my pink wine and my cat...waiting for the cheesecake to finish in the oven, I am thankful.  I am thankful for experiences...the ones when I fail to be all I can be for a family and the ones that I can give the patient some relief from the pain and some good time for whatever time is left.  I am thankful for a job that is a calling, a ministry and a job.  I am thankful that when I leave a patient, I can hug them and then kiss them on the cheek and linger to feel the connection that I cherish.  

As my mentor/friend/patient's wife says..."No experience is wasted" and I have to agree.  It's the reaction to the experience and the learning to be thankful even in the darkest of times that we understand the tapestry of this life...and learn to cherish the good times and hopefully grow stronger in the not so good times.

So Happy Thanksgiving...I am thankful for you!!!

May you have good time, peace and comfort with those you love...and when you kiss them on the cheek, linger and feel the gift of warmth and comfort for  today and always...

We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Watching the profound go by...

Yes, I know it's been a while.  I have been dry...dried up and withering...trying to figure out things that are "unfigurable" and 
asking why about things that have no answers.  Needless to say, I have spent a lot of the last three months in my head.  

Let's just say that me being in my head is not a good thing.  I compare, I fret, I wish things were different or wish things were the way they used to be.  In a few words, I stop living in the now....

I must admit, I do not do change well.  I do love a good schedule and I love a good routine.  I am sure when I was younger and busy, I gritched and moaned about how busy I was and how I wish I had some time for myself...some free time.  You can ask anyone you know who knew me then...

So now, I have time.  I mean, I have time to do the things I didn't have time for before.  I can clean my house, get laundry done and be at home.  Now, I wish I was cheering at a band competition or a baseball or soccer game instead of folding the clothes just right.  Funny how that goes, really.

Last week, I had the distinct honor of being knocked off my feet and told to get out of my head while listening to a patient explain her "goals of care".  The goals of care are a fancy way of saying what a patient wants  to do with the time that is left.  It is what means the most to a person's heart when they know they are  near the end.

I sat in the chair by her bed and watched her as she explained what she has been through.  Almost a year ago, it started with a little cough that didn't go away...nagging and nagging for a few months.  She went to the doctor to get antibiotics for the cough and even after that, it was relentless.  Chest x-rays and MRI's and PET scans later, she had the answer.  The big C...Cancer.  It sounded to me that she handled it well, continued to work and  went to chemotherapy for almost a year.  They told her that there wasn't a cure to be had but there was the promise of more time if she did what they told her to do.  So, she did.  

As with most of the people I have the honor of caring for, she had a circle of friends that drove her, cooked for her and cleaned her house when she couldn't do it for one reason or another.  She was uncomfortable with all the help, the love and the concern that she got because it was usually her doing that for her friends.  I told her that I could understand.  I think if we take a minute, we would all rather be the one doing and loving than the one that is fighting for more time.

So here's the rub...what she really wants to be able to do now is so simple.  She wants to straighten up her home, make a nice dinner and sit with her family and enjoy the meal.  She wants the time back that she had a few years ago.   Because she is near the end of her time, and she is so tired,  going to the table takes every ounce of energy,  so she doesn't get to do that much if at all.  As she was telling me this, she teared up.  She just wants a little more time to do what we all used to do when we had kids to tend to and we were mothering.  I listened as she told me how she  used to straighten up the house and put things in their place, figure out dinner for the family and make sure she had all the food in the house.  Then, she would put dinner on and welcome her family home.  Dinner would be ready and she would sit with them, talk with them and clean up after dinner.  

Sounds like a pretty simple routine that went on nightly in that home.  But now, nothing is simple and nothing is easy.  Now  it's hard to get out of bed because she is so tired and when she is really awake, she feels the pain that the cancer causes.  She has to take her pain medication and then she wants to rest because of the fatigue that cancer causes.  Don't get me wrong, she is not complaining as much as remembering how precious those nights were.

I told her I could relate and tears sprang to my eyes.  I too, remember those evenings when I made a favorite dish for dinner and sat with my family and listened to their day. I looked away because  I didn't want her to see my tenderness  I felt that surrounded her realization.

You see, I miss that so much now that it is just Jim and I.  When I am in my head, I wish I had that time back to imprint it in my brain and feel the feelings and smell the smells and remember the looks between the family.  But...and this is the biggest but ever...I can call the family together and make a meal and talk about the old days and feel the new feelings of a family that has time.   This sweet girl cannot.  She can't do it and that is all she wants.  That is a profound loss of control, knowing that you can't do something you want to do and you know your time is running out.

So what is the answer for her?  To make her time with her family as beautiful as she can.  To honor her wishes and give her every medication to keep her comfortable,  give her every moment to be with her family undisturbed...let them be and love each other as much as they can.  

I understand what it is to wish that things were different.  What I cannot comprehend is running out of time to make new memories. To live with the courage to know that every time you look at your husband,  your children that the time is measured and one of these days will be the last time...deep and difficult thoughts.

So, what do we do?  What do I do?  I think it is time to stop wishing things were different, that the kids were little and that I did  a better job.  It is time to live in the now, love in the now and be okay with what is.  

You see, there may be a day, hopefully not soon, that we have a cough that doesn't go away, or a lump in a place it shouldn't be or test that didn't turn out to be clear...and we are in the shoes of my dear patient.  Wanting to be able to do the simple things that show love to our family, our friends ...but are too tired and cannot.  

Profound thoughts for a Sunday night but thoughts that can make the fabric of your life richer...

When we live in the now and understand that we have a life to live and not just watch...when we give ourselves and love each other every day...that's what we are called to do and be.  At least, that is what I believe as I watch life come and go daily.

We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,