In the next few days, a family is going to lose a parent, a sibling, a friend, a partner, a lover. This is a family who has come together at the end, in grief and in love.
I witnessed a small piece of this today.
With a heavy heart I knocked softly at the front door, taking note of the “No Smoking, Oxygen in Use” sign.
Upon entrance into the home, the sound of the oxygen tank was heavy in the air. A hospital bed could be seen down the hallway in the living room, and lying in it, my patient. I forgot how one looks during the final hours of life. It caught me by surprise and a lump formed in my throat. I approached the bed and touched my patient’s hand. I said hello, as the personal support worker washed my patient’s feet. I am not religious but was instantly reminded of Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus as he hung on the cross dying. The living room was transformed into a makeshift hospital room. Bedpans, sheets, syringes, bottles of medications, all visible on the bookshelf and lined up meticulously, within easy reach. But this was someone’s home – unopened mail on the coffee table, hospital brochures on dying at home scattered underneath. Half-read books on the couch, an afghan and pillow rested in the corner.
Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe it. The family and I talked, mostly about their loved one and the events of the past few weeks, but also about their plans after the funeral; the trip they will take this summer, to scatter the ashes; the arrangements for the funeral.
I walked for a while after the visit. Trying to clear my head. Trying to imagine what that family is going through, watching their loved one dying in front of them. I wished, for just a moment, that I was religious. Maybe believing in God would help me understand this process of death, what it means and what it leaves behind.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.