I have spent the week talking about leaving. Leaving town, leaving this earth, leaving families and friends, leaving pets. It's been exhausting and sad and I often wonder why life has to be this hard.
I have a few patients that I have fallen in love with after having no intention of doing that. When the new year came, I had a talk with myself about becoming more "professional" and keeping my "boundaries" intact at all costs. Stop falling in love and just nurse...
After this week, I can tell you I have failed miserably and it is coming time to pay the piper. I have a few patients that are getting close to leaving this earth. They are prepared to go and are just sad. I am just sad right along with them...
One of my folks came to me with a to do list that had to be completed. It was not my idea of a to do list of someone who was dying but of someone who was getting ready to move out of a house. Twice a week, I would call and plan a visit and I would get the report, " I got most of my room cleaned out and organized, took a load to the dump and a load to donate. It has been a fantastic day." Often I would hang up and laugh and tell myself that I need to talk to her because this is no way to die...She needs to slow down, hang with family and get ready. But on my weekly visits, she was full of joy and talked like a teenager at how she was getting organized. We didn't talk directly about her dying or getting ready to leave, but it was an unspoken conversation that would be had at another time.
Well, "another time" has come. She is organized and if you were to do a moving timeline, the movers are ready to come and get her stuff. She knows that it's now time for family. Her family arrives on Monday for a visit. We didn't talk about that on her "to-do" list because I suspect that would come when it was getting really close to leave. After catching up, I did my "nurse" stuff and began to talk about what I found...and she agreed. She looked at me with her sparkling blue eyes...and said, "I know it's growing but I'm still hoping for a miracle" and after the lump cleared my throat, I responded, "Me, too." We sat for a time in silence, holding hands with tears running down our faces...knowing she is leaving soon and that the time has come.
I finished my visit wishing her a great weekend and to call me because I was going to be around and bent down to hug her. She kissed me on the cheek and told me she loved me. I responded in kind. Then I walked out the door, wiped my eyes and stuffed all the sadness deep down in the bottom of my heart and drove to the next patient.
The next visit was very different but similar. I knocked on the door and walked in with my usual, "hello, it's Terry, the nurse" when I could feel the sadness of the house envelope me. The kitchen was empty and the caregiver came out and informed me that it had been a sad morning. I walked into the room to find my patient holding hands with his wife, looking at her with his mouth open sobbing. Occasionally he would take a breath and let out a moan. She turned to me and told me he has been doing this more in the last few days and he is just very sad.
He has been ill for a very long time and was told 9 months ago that he would be gone in 3 to 6 months. He blew by those dates and continued to sit at the table and have meals, be read to by his wife, visited by his sons and grandchildren and did life. We didn't talk much about his leaving because he was doing so well. But, in the last few weeks, something has changed. He knows his time is closer and he is just sad.
When I took her place to check on him and asked him what was wrong...pain somewhere, etc...he sobbed his wife's name. Then I told him that I know he loves her and that she will be okay and we will take care of her...he sobbed even harder.
His wife and I left him and sat at the kitchen table, trying to figure out how to get through this time. She wondered if there was anything more she could do to help. I explained that he is doing "the work" of leaving and some people just become very sad. I told her the thing to do is sit with him in it...cry with him, love him and let him get there. While it's really hard and heart breaking, being in it with him is the only thing left to do once the physical stuff is taken care of. We talked about how she can't change the situation but she can be with him in it, either in silence or with conversation.
I sat for a while at the table wondering if I had told her the right thing...is there some other way to take all this pain away? I came to the conclusion there is not. I told her that he was so lucky to have her and that she was doing everything right and that he just doesn't want to leave her. Although it is becoming his time and she is prepared, he just wants to stay. She teared up because she is so tired...tired of wondering when the time will come, staying up nights holding hands and reading and feeding and thinking...all the things that are loving and right and holy and comforting to do when your husband is dying.
I pulled out on the street and thought of myself and my daughter leaving. Granted, she's in Peru and she signed up to serve in the Peace Corps, but honestly, even leaving for a little while makes your heart ache.
Life is so hard...and so amazing...and then so heartbreaking again. You get a diagnosis, you care for a loved one, you sign a paper that closes out the marriage that you planned on lasting forever, you take a child to college, or God forbid, you bury one...
For my patients, they know it is time for them to leave. They both know that they are going to a "better" place. They know it's a place where they are not hurting anymore, or feeling nausea all the time unless they take a pill...but sometimes even knowing that and knowing it's time, they don't want to leave. That's the hard part and the part that sits in the heart and stirs the soul forever.
So leaving is hard...because usually we love the people that leave. But love is a gift...and the experiences that come with love are the gifts...the things that keep us afloat in this life.
So the wish for today:
May we love so hard that when it's time to leave...however that is, we recognize the blessing that we experienced and use those memories to heal our broken hearts.
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,