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,