Tonight, somewhere, someone is dying with family by their bedside.
A cool cloth is placed on his forehead.
A mouth is wiped dry.
A hand is held.
A tear is shed.
A story is told.
I left you surrounded by your family. I was honored to have seen you one last time.
Death is an inevitable journey for us all.
I hope yours is peaceful.
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.
It’s been a difficult day.
One patient whose wife has terminal lung cancer came to see me today. I plan on doing a home visit later in the week. He came for his own medical issues, but we talked about his wife. He put on a brave face but he is devastated. Married for 36 years, second marriage for both, this wasn’t supposed to happen to them.
Another patient, in a long-term relationship, just isn’t “feeling” it with her partner anymore. She hasn’t for a long time, yet remains in the relationship and complains regularly of episodic pain which has been investigated more times than I can count. Her tests always come back normal. She left her partner last year for a time, actually started dating someone new but then returned to the long-term relationship. It would appear that the break really didn’t do much for her. She still doesn’t know what she wants, yet isn’t ready to take the final steps.
Both of these people have to let go, in different ways.
At some point in all of our lives, we have to let go of something, or someone. Whether it is in death, or simply a parting of ways, it’s not easy. I struggled to find the words for the gentleman whose wife is dying.
And I just got word another patient has likely entered the final stages of his journey and is now actively dying.
All of this in one day, within a few hours.
I need a drink.
I feel completely overwhelmed with my job today.
I need to let these people go. I can’t take this home with me.
Husband is coming to pick me up. He won tickets to see an early screening of Godzilla. I need mindless entertainment tonight. Thank goodness my mom can stay with the kids.
So, lately daughter has been using the “d” word a lot. Died. Dead.
She found a picture of the cat I had growing up and asked me about it. I told her I had the cat for a long, long time and she isn’t here anymore. “Did she die and go to heaven, mommy?” I was a bit surprised. I asked her how she knew about that and she said “My yiayia (grandmother) told me about her Uncle who went to heaven.”
Wow. So I’ve been wondering exactly how much she actually understands about the word, the concept. I didn’t pursue it further since she really didn’t ask.
Then, I got my answer when she came home from JK yesterday and started talking about Terry Fox. Her school held their annual Terry Fox Run/Walk around the neighborhood. Terry Fox (for those who don’t know) was a young man who developed bone cancer, lost his leg, then started a run across Canada to raise awareness for cancer and raise money. He never finished his run. He made it as far as Thunder Bay when the cancer that took his leg returned. Every year since (this happened in 1980-1981), schools and communities across Canada hold an annual Terry Fox run to raise money for cancer research.
We asked her what she learned about Terry Fox.
Daughter: “He got sick in his leg.”
Daddy: “Then what happened?”
Daughter: “The doctor took his leg.”
Daddy: “And then what happened?”
Daughter: “The gave him a robot leg and he started running.”
Daddy: “That’s right. Then what happened?”
Daughter: “He died and went to heaven.”
(By this point, I am almost crying watching this exchange.)
A few minutes later, my daughter says, “I hope he gets better.”
So there’s the answer to my question. She has no idea what it means to die and go to heaven. Phew. Wasn’t sure I wanted to explain that just yet. I mean, she isn’t even 4 yet! I don’t want that innocence lost just yet. I don’t even believe in heaven really, so I’m not even sure how to handle that question. I hope I don’t have to for a while.