Sunday, June 26, 2016

A week or two in the life...

It' been an interesting last two weeks in this life.  If you  have a minute, I'd like to tell you about it...

Last week, we had the privilege to drive to Mexico and build a house.   I know you've heard this story before but this one is worth hearing.  Another perspective on life...

This trip was hot...probably 105 degrees daily and the sweat from manual labor made me a little gritchy.  As the week went on and the house was coming together, I noticed that the father of the family, while with us, wasn't helping.  That is an odd occurrence.  When we start building in Mexico, there is no shortage of help from the males in the family...they are helping and having a part in making the house "their" home.  This father was always helpful but for the most part, sat in the shade and watched.

Because I have been on a number of builds, I started to wonder if there was something going on.  The last day, after an amazing lunch they made for us served sitting under pop up tents with cold coca-cola with ice, I got my answer.

Jim, my husband, after lunch wandered over to the family and sat down.  In his best Spanglish, he began to talk to the family and I noticed they were laughing and very comfortable.  I pulled up a chair and joined them and began to try to communicate.  Jim walked away and I was left to sit with them.  The father, Jose', had lived in the US and could speak some english and I could fake a little spanish so we were golden.  After spending a few minutes making small talk, Olivia, Jose's wife, began to talk to Jose'.  Best I could understand, she asked him to tell me why he was so thankful for a new home.  Finally, he looked at her and smiled and began to talk to me.  

He spoke  English very slowly and at first, I thought it was because he was really struggling with the language.  As I looked closer, he was choking back tears.  Around Christmas, he wasn't feeling well and went to the emergency room.  After some rudimentary tests, they told him to go home and get his affairs together because he was going to die.   He was diagnosed with  Lymphoma and he had a week to months.  All he could think about was taking care of his family and that included somewhere for them to live.  At that time, and still today, they were living with his brother and his family in a small place.   While thankful for housing, it was still many family members in a really small place that wasn't his own.   As he thought about getting his affairs in order, he wanted to be able to leave them with a roof over their heads.

Then, upon hearing of his illness, a friend of the family suggested that they apply for a house through Casas por Cristo.  They applied and usually it takes a year to two to be approved for a home.  This family waited about 6 months and a house was to be built. 

Now this "home" that I refer to is small.  It is about 300sq feet, has a door with a lock, three windows, three light sockets, a concrete floor.  It translates into two bedrooms and a larger room to be whatever the family wants it to be.  There is no bathroom or kitchen or plumbing for that matter.  You get the picture, nothing fancy.

But to a family that has lived in places that are made of wood pallets and cardboard and some plastic to try to keep out rain...this is a palace.  And for a man who is looking at the end of his life with a wife and two teenagers with nowhere to live...this is a mansion. 

How would you feel if you were in need and a group of 15 whom you've never met showed up to help?   And would you be able to sit and watch these strangers with sweat dripping off of them everywhere build you a home and ask for nothing in return?  Could you just be thankful?  I am not sure I could but I hope that if I am ever in those shoes, I could accept the gift and be thankful.

Before we say goodbye, we dedicate the house to the family and we offer prayers and good wishes for them in their new home.  We pass the keys and hold them in our hands for a bright future.  Then after that, it's the family's turn.  As we stood, the story came out and we all were so thankful that we could help this family.   Needless to say, there wasn't a dry eye...

We drove 14 hours home on Saturday and it was difficult.  If you wanna know the truth, I hate the drive and I complained the whole time.  Actually, early in the build, I was named the "designated complainer" because I never shut my mouth!

Monday was a new day and it was time to get back to work.  Some of my patients had some issues while I was gone and I was happy to come back to the cool mountains and deal with them.

I have a couple that have been married for 65 years and celebrated while I was gone.  They had a party and all the family showed.  It was a joyous time.  

Sometimes, after a big holiday or celebration, folks who are dying decide it is okay to go and begin to decline.  This is what happened with this couple.  In the mean time, the husband was having some more issues with his health and staying on his feet.  He was starting to fall and needs to go to rehab.  The wheels were put in motion for that to happen and  Tuesday, it was going to be the conversation of the day...sending him to rehab for a tune up.

It was a beautiful day on Tuesday and we just had a hospital bed delivered to his wife.  She was quiet and comfortable and obviously declining.  He was sitting on the couch with his coffee reading a book.  It was very peaceful and honestly, lovely.

My job was to convince him that he needed to go to rehab and needed to get stronger and safer at home.  I sat next to him and held his hand and said nothing.  Frankly, I didn't know what to say and I thought I knew what he was going to say...

Finally, I started the conversation asking him how he felt and letting him know that we were all worried about him.  He looked me straight in the eye and asked me how his girl was doing and if this was "it".  I gently told him that I think her time is coming and it will be soon but not today.  I told him we were going to keep her very comfortable and that she would have no pain or anxiety as she slept.  He teared up and choked out a sob...then told me he wasn't going to rehab right now.  He had been with her 65 years and rehab could wait while he saw his girl off this earth.  Then, he got quiet and stroked my arm thanking me for understanding.  Needless to say, I teared up and accepted the thanks.

Yesterday, almost a week after we watched her begin her decline, she peacefully left this earth in the bed in the sunny living room surrounded by her husband of 65 years and her daughter.  She was quiet and comfortable and right where she needed to be and just how it needed to be.    When I arrived to take care of them, I sat with the husband and told him what a great job he did caring for her until the end.  He teared up again and choked back a sob and struggled to say, "I hope so...."  

We all make decisions in life and after they are made, we hope they are the right ones.  Sometimes we never know they are the right ones until years later and sometimes we know right away.  We have to just decide and then go with the flow.

One decision that I know is right 100% of the time is to love and serve others.  I know it's right because I never feel such peace in my heart as when I am in the middle of things like that.  Does that mean you have to drive 14 hours in the car and then endure the heat and try to speak spanish?  Nope...it means, look at your life and when you see a gap somewhere, fill it.  If it is stuffing envelopes for a cause you think alot of...do it.  If you grown child needs your help with your grandkids....do it.  Whatever you do is good, right and holy if it is out of a giving and loving heart...and I made the rule that you can even complain!!!

As we watch our world crumbling and people become more afraid of each other...the only thing that we can do that is easy...is to love and serve.

We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Life's work...

Thursday night as I watched a bunch of overpaid boys try to hit a baseball in front of a crowd of 32,000 people, I looked down at my phone to see a familiar phone number.  It was the number of the home that I had been calling frequently to check on as the person was dying.  I quickly ran up the stadium stairs and dialed the number knowing what the voice on the other end would say.  "He's gone..." which is what I expected...what we all expected.  In fact, it was what the family and I said we wanted over and over.   "He was so peaceful and we were all with him and we cannot thank you enough for all you did."   He was gone and all that was left to do were the phone calls.

I went by the house the next day to say hello and good bye.  They were sad and relieved and so proud of how they came together and cared for their dad, husband and brother when they would rather be doing anything else.  I reminded them of what an honor it was to help them do that and the comfort as time goes on will be immeasurable.

End of life...dying...leaving this world...whatever we want to refer to it as, is something that we think will happen someday but never think that "someday" will come.  Until it does.  Until you have a funky pain that you can't ignore anymore and go to the doctor.  Then all the things you thought about dying change when it is you or someone close to you.

The amazing thing about getting a diagnosis that isn't good, is you see where the "rubber meets the road" with the people you love.  I have the opportunity to see it every day and am humbled.  Even the most fragmented families come together to help a person they love move on.  They break down, they complain, they yell and scream at each other, but when the person is on the way out, they come together, sit by the bed and love each other.  Every time...

This death was a relief for the family in so many ways.  I always say to the family when they are ready to hear it...."you die the way you lived."    What that looks like is sometimes difficult for families.  If you were a difficult person in life, you are going to be a difficult person in death.  If you worked every day and never stopped and were strong as an ox, you will die that way...not easily, not able to relax and get comfortable without work.  Then the point comes when they rest and go on into the night after they are done with the hard work.

This gentleman from last week was like that.  He was a handsome man, unbelievably hard worker and desperately sad that he was leaving this world.  The cancer cells grew and took parts of him, but it did not take him.  When I met him three months ago, he was sad...about being diagnosed, about having to leave this earth and about not being able to finish all the work he had planned.  He ran from the moment his pain was under control until the moment he decided to lay down.  Then, he worked in his head for the time it took to get everything in order before he could leave.  His family stood by telling him they were ready, that they would take care of everything...and still, he needed to do the work.

Finally, last week, the work was done.  The family said they could see that he was finally done working and went to sit with him.  They said they didn't say much as they had already said it all when a tear escaped out of his eye and he peacefully drew his last breath.  He had done it all...the work of living and the work of dying.

I have heard the saying, " If you love what you do, you don't work a day in your life" and I believe for this man...that saying was true.  

I have been spending much time thinking about my work.  I came to the conclusion last week that I don't think of it as work.  I think of it as what I am "supposed" to do.  That it is my ministry, my calling that I was led to by the hand of God.  I know it sounds crazy.   

I remember my mother dying in the living room in a hospital bed in Florida those 20 years ago.  I remember sitting by her watching her breath quietly all day.  She was done and she had done all of her work.  There wasn't agitation or pain, just quiet peace as she breathed in and out.  We did the day...the surreal feeling you have when you are in the middle of something that you cannot control and wish was not happening.  We ate, we drank, we sat and watched TV and talked to her...almost like nothing was going on but we were about to watch our mother leave this earth.  I was 31 years old with a 3 and 1 year old.  Just starting out on some of my life's work.

Finally the day was over and we all went to bed, except for my sister, Chris...the oldest one.  She decided she would sit with my mother for a few more hours before she called it a night.  

A few hours later, my sister opened the door to the room I was sleeping in to tell me she thought my mother was gone and could I come check her.  I walked over to the bed in the living room and confirmed my sister's diagnosis.  My mother was gone... into the night when my sister dozed off to the peacefully rhythmic breathing while she held her hand.  Her work was done and she was gone...

We did what families do when a loved one passes away at home...we called the doctor and we called the mortuary.  They picked her up as the sun was coming up in Shady Hills, Florida.  I remember calling Jim after that and waking him up to tell him I no longer had a mother on earth.  I was sad, relieved and thinking it wasn't true...but it was.

I remember as I stood at the head of her hospital bed in the living room, I  looked into the kitchen, and around the room and saw my siblings.  My brother was reading the paper in his lazy boy, my sister was going in and out of the kitchen doing her "work", and my father was standing at the foot of the bed with his hands on my mother's  blanketed feet saying nothing.   I remember the overwhelming feeling of sadness mixed with comfort and then  I remember hearing a small voice in my head... "You oughta be doing this for people, it's nice to be home." 

I returned to Swedish and continued to work in the hospital all the while thinking of that small voice.  Then, I decided it was time to try hospice.  It was the right choice.  I ran away once and tried other nursing again but always feel the pull of my ministry and feel incomplete when I am not caring for the living and the dying.

This comes at a time when my children are trying to figure out their life's work.  My daughter, an engineer, is in Peru with the Peace Corp trying to understand hers.  I believe she will find what she is looking for.  My middle son is unemployed and will begin the search of what he wants to do while he tries to understand his life's work.  It's a difficult task.

So, my guess is, that when you have found your life's work, it isn't always perfect or easy but it is right.  It's what we know in our heart is right even when it feels so hard...and it is the joy our hearts desire when it is right.  

The question is then,  "what is our life's work and does that work change?"  For me, "am I to be a nurse for another 15 years or do I do something else?  Is it normal to be so "soul" tired at 52?"  

As my children begin their journey to figure out their life's work, I find myself wondering about mine...

Any advice, insight and answers are welcome...

We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,