“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain …” he saw sunny days that he thought would never end.
I feel that way sometimes.
Like the sun will last forever and the foreboding darkness of an impending storm will elude me and deprive me of the comfort that only such an awe-inspiring event of God-created nature can bring.
I found myself today in the company of a family who was waiting for their mother to die.
I have spent an hour or so with them every day for the past couple of weeks and have come to know them, to care about them, to love them.
I’ve seen photographs of their children and grandchildren, of weddings and birthday parties.
I’ve seen faces with smiles that don’t quite reach the eyes because there was worry there.
A sorrow for what was to come.
I didn’t want to go into that room today. I wanted to be a coward and take the coward’s way out and simply say that they were unavailable.
It would have been a lie, though, even if only to myself.
One that would settle smoothly at the time and then plague me in the wee hours as I remembered the fear, sorrow and sense of hopelessness on the faces that I was trying so hard to comfort.
So I went into the room I didn’t want to go in, sat with people I had come to know and love and waited with them while their mother took her last breath.
It was humbling to be accepted into this place of sorrow and grief as though I was one of them.
I have sat with them, held their hands, cried with them, prayed with them and now, I mourn for them.
It was obvious, when I went to visit them today, that the time was limited. While I didn’t want to bring negative connotations to an already tense situation, I advised them to call any other family members who should be there to come to be with them.
Maybe I overstepped my bounds. No, there is no maybe about it, I did overstep them. But in my nearly thirty years as a nurse, I haven’t always played by the rules.
Sometimes I play by the heart, which often breaks the rules.
But over the years, I have seen death enough to know what it looks like.
I couldn’t live with the knowledge that there were ones that I had met and bonded with before that weren’t there now when the moment they had been dreading, avoiding, rationalizing, but knew was impending, had come.
I felt like a traitor. Like someone who had come only to say that this is it.
The last hoorah.
The final moments of a life well lived.
I stood in the corner while the family stood around the bed, each one with their hand on the one they loved so dearly, as she took her last breath and left this world.
Before she did, she opened her eyes, something she hadn’t done in days, and looked directly at each one present; saying goodbye, farewell, move on, don’t cry.
Silent tears ran down my face as I watched them watch her as her soul departed from her ravaged body.
I remembered thinking how I wish my Jim had someone with him when he died. And then I remember how much of a loner he was. Even with me, he was alone. I wonder now if he was glad that he was alone when he died. Glad that he didn’t have to see the fear and sorrow on a face that would wish him to go on when he couldn’t, or maybe simply didn’t want to.
I don’t mourn him anymore. I think of him and of the life we shared, but I have let him go. He is a dear and well-loved memory, but not an anchor to weigh me down. That can bring good to no-one. And I believe it would sadden him if he thought that his death had broken my spirit.
I slipped out of the room, unnoticed, by the family. There was nothing else I do, nothing else I could offer; no words I could say to comfort them in that moment.
Trying to do so would be futile and would, I feared, break the trust that they had placed in me to understand them in their moment of weakness.
I had given them my heart, which was now breaking for each one of them. My tears won’t help them anymore than their own will.
I hope for them, this night, peace in the knowledge that they not only loved, with such passion, their mother, sister, grandmother, wife … but that she knew, with every ounce of her being, that they did.
I like to think that knowing that you gave everything you had to someone you loved is enough to sustain them at their last moments.
I will cry myself to sleep tonight for a family I didn’t know just two weeks ago, a family now broken and irrevocably changed.
I will photograph the living and mourn the dead. This is the life, while I may not have chosen willingly, was given to me to live.
If my heart shatters a bit in order to bring comfort to another, then it was pain well spent.
I will live it the best I am able, deal with it when I can, falter when I can’t and then remember, while trying to remind others, that even when it doesn’t seem so, life goes on.
There isn’t, really, any more anyone can do other than the best they can.
And then, you move on, for if you don’t move forward, there isn’t any hope and hope is, and will always be, one of the most wonderful things life has to offer.
Without hope, there isn’t anything left. So hope. Seek happiness in the face of sorrow. Find beauty in the midst of sorrow and disaster and know, beyond all else that hope is a good thing … and no good thing, as long as there are people who remember what was, never really dies.