Some days this job of mine makes me swallow hard and choke back emotion. Today was one of those days. Not because I can't do it anymore but because there are just some stories that hit so close to home that you can put yourself in the shoes of the person instead of staying the safe distance to walk with the family.
My day started with a visit to check on the family and comfort the patient...change the sheets, wash the patient up and make sure the medications are on target. I spent a nice hour in her room making her comfortable and doing the things I love about nursing. When I was finished, she had a peaceful look on her face and fell gently to sleep.
I called the family into the living room and made them sit down to talk. I asked them if they had any questions and they began to ask. They asked the hard questions, and sat and listened to the answers without tears. Finally, the question that I had been waiting for...why am I not crying anymore even though I know I should be?
That is a question that families will sometimes ask and sometimes they will feel too guilty to ask because they think they should be crying more.
I asked them the story of the illness and what it was like for the last year while she navigated treatment. They told me how she was diagnosed and she started the first treatment with good results. "The tumor shrunk to half it's size" and they were flying high hoping for the best. They moved on with life and began the new normal of someone living with cancer. Three months later, the patient went in for a scan and the cancer was back...and the tears came. They rallied and she had another round of treatment and that was difficult but they were ready for the fight and stayed in it with her. Sadly, when the scans were done, they showed a progression of the cancer as well. The tears came again with the thought that they weren't winning the fight. She did everything right and when an experimental chemo came along, she jumped in with full faith that this was going to be the thing that gave her more time with her family. That treatment took a toll on her and it was clear to the family members that it wasn't working...and that's when the tears came at night on the pillows so as to be totally positive during the day. And now, while we wait for the angels to come, the tears have run dry...and they feel guilty because as they care for her and watch her sleep, they are hollow.
As they told me the story, my tears flowed...watching the pain of a family losing it's leader, caregiver and the one that kept the family humming. We talked and talked...about how they are going through this now and feel numb but the tears will come. I said," Don't go looking for the tears because they will find you" and I believe it. Sometimes, it is a gift to be focused on the care and to be able to put all the emotion in your back pocket until it comes bursting out after the person has gone. Sometimes, if you think too much about what you are going through, you wouldn't be able to finish strong. The family listened intently and I think they heard me. I also told them that this is "holy" time and that they were doing everything right. She was clean, comfortable and in her own bed with her family by her side. I told them to tell her everything they wanted to tell her even if she was told already...and to know she hears them.
When the visit was over, we all turned to the Christmas tree that was up in the living room with only lights on it and talked about Christmas past. They aren't in the mood for Christmas and I can understand why. I gave one more speech of the day and I meant it. Christmas is a time that families gather and celebrate. Families make it a point to be together and to try to cherish the time together. That's what this family is doing...and doing it well. They have been together through this for a year and now, when it would be easy to have someone else care for their loved one because they feel ill equipped, they are all in...loving her all the way out of here by being by her side and caring for her every need. If that isn't a way to celebrate the love of family and what Christmas is about...nothing is.
So on the eve of Christmas eve, offer a prayer, good intentions or anyway you communicate to the universe for comfort for the folks that have hollow hearts from the pain of losing someone...and maybe, when the tears do come again, they can feel them and know that they did everything right to care for their loved ones and it gives them peace and comfort.
It's been quite a day...
Have a wonderful holiday season, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,