I admitted him almost a year ago. He was admitted into hospice because he didn't want to go to the hospital and something was going on that wasn't good. The hospital didn't agree with him and every time he went in, he became confused and needed medications that didn't make him less confused. He just wanted to stay home and let the chips fall where they may...
I knew it was going to be a long time before he left us and let his wife know. This may be a long haul, I said, and as he gets sicker, things get harder. She thought she understood but appreciated the information and wanted to do the best she could.
We made it through two more birthdays and two more anniversaries...the 63rd and 64th. It was clear last week that we had finally come to the crossroads of his life. He was fading...
Throughout the last year, she would sit by his bedside and read to him or watch TV or a movie. She would tuck him in at night and then sleep with an ear open to hear him "sing-song" her name. The calling out singing her name came during the last few months when he really wanted her close...wanted to hear her voice and have her in the room.
Sometimes, when I showed up, he would call out for her and she would say, "he has been doing this all day and then when I go to him, he doesn't need anything." I always thought to myself...he loves her so much after all of these years and just having her close by gives him comfort.
I would visit twice a week and fell in love these two people. We became attached and I was invited for multiple dinners, cups of coffee and birthdays and anniversaries. If I said no, on my next visit would be the cake saved for me. I know the boundaries became blurred but I was getting so much more from knowing and caring for them than I could give and isn't that what life is about?
Most visits, we talked about how thankful we were that he didn't have much pain and how sometimes he wouldn't sleep...how he called for her in the night. I told her I thought he just wanted her close because she was his comfort. I would often marvel that they were married for 60 + years and ask her all the secrets.
As the year went on, my entrance into the house became predictable. I would call out my standard, "hello, it's Terry the nurse" and walk into his room, gently say hello and kiss him on the forehead. We would talk of what was new, if he was in pain and what his "girl" was doing. One of the last times I saw him, I told him he looked "extra handsome" and he told me that he couldn't help it. I agreed with him...he couldn't help it.
Their 64th wedding anniversary passed a few weeks ago. I arrived to see him all dressed, with his hair slicked back and his "getting out of bed" clothes on. I asked his wife what was up and she told me it was their 64th anniversary and they had friends coming over to have lunch. I walked in singing, "Happy anniversary, baby" and he smiled. While I was asking him the usual questions, she gently rubbed his forehead and bent down and gave him a kiss. Then she jokingly asked him how many years they were married. It took a long time for him to answer and then he said, "well...64." I was amazed and she beamed.
He dozed off after a while and I went to the kitchen table and she offered me coffee and asked me if I was in a rush. I decided I wasn't and out came the wedding album. I sat and looked at page after page of these two young and beautiful kids that started a life 64 years before. She told me the stories of their courtship and the ups and downs and how they ended up here. She had a sparkle in her eye that made her look like that girl in the picture again.
Early last week, as I said, he began to sleep much more and was losing his awareness. The time, I tell families, " that they have one foot on earth and the other in heaven" and the end is getting closer. These times are when, as a nurse, I visit every day to make sure the family feels supported and strong as they watch their loved one fade. It is a holy and tender time for the family.
On Wednesday, it was apparent. He was quiet and comfortable but not responding. His wife and I sat at the table with our coffee and talked. We reviewed the plan and all the "nursey" things that I have to do to make sure things go smoothly.
We sat quietly for a few minutes and I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I began to tell her how honored I was to stand beside her as she took such good care of her husband. I was thinking about how much I learned from her over this year about what an enduring love looks like and how to keep going when you're tired. I watched her keep her grown family involved with letters and cards and visits and care for them too. She was an amazing example of how to care for a loved one for the long haul. She handed me a tissue and then took one for herself. She thanked me for helping her think that she could care for him at home even when she was tired. She thanked me for continuing to show up and when he didn't need care...spend time with her. By the end of the visit, we were both feeling so lucky in this difficult and predictable time of life.
He died this weekend after "a long illness." When I left late Friday afternoon, I told her it was going to be this weekend. She sat close, held his hand and read to him. She said she talked to him and thanked him for all the years and life they lived together. She told him she wouldn't have picked anyone else. Finally, as she sat, she said she noticed that his breathing had changed and wondered what was going on. Then, she said, it was so quiet and he just didn't take another breath. She watched him for a long time after to make sure what she thought was right and then thanked God that she had the privilege of being there and holding him close up until his last breath.
I arrived in the morning to coffee and muffins and breakfast for me. She was so thankful for his quiet and peaceful passing as well as the intimacy of being with him alone like the beginning of their 64 years together. It was heartbreaking and joyful at the same time.
I walked into the room and he was gone. I placed my stethoscope on his chest, kissed his forehead, like I always did, and thanked him for letting me be a part his life. I made the phone calls and sat with his wife. I sat quietly while the world and her friends got news of his passing.
I watched her tell the story with peace and comfort as she knew she did the very best for this man that she could. I reflected over our time together this last year and hoped that I would to be able to do the same thing for my husband should I be in the same position.
64 years of marriage...of love. From the stories of their life together, it was not an easy love all the time...but it was an enduring love that lasted through it all...and I got to learn and watch and that in the last year.
So again, I am thankful to have been a part of an amazing journey of what is good, right and holy.
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,