Category Archives: death

When God gives one a heart of compassion …

it is understood that it will get broken.

There is no way around it.

I am still learning this.

I find that is is both  an honor and a privilege to watch the end of life come to pass.

It isn’t easy nor can it be considered pleasant, but it is a part of life that not everyone gets to see.

The living years is what most of us look for, find pleasure in and hope to be a part of.

But to be present when a spirit leaves this world is nothing short of amazing.

The last breath.

The last heartbeat.

The last moment.

I cannot help but cry for it is, in it’s way, very sad … and yet, when there was suffering, it is also a comfort.

I try, in my weak way, to console the ones left behind, but at that particular moment, there really are no words to say.

I can only be there, in the background, in the edges of the moment, to hold a hand or wrap my arm around those who need the contact.

I’m not, by nature, a hugger or toucher.

It doesn’t really come naturally to me as it does to true nurturers … and yet, I find myself being pulled into the emotion.

It is difficult, but I cannot turn them away.

Not in their moment of need.

Maybe I am weak. But if I can offer some bit of strength in their moment of weakness, then my strength has been made manifest.

I can do, for this moment, what I have learned through experience to do.  Not book experience, or clinical experience, but life experience.

I understand loss, especially unexpected loss that blindsides you and leaves you reeling from words left unsaid.

It is what it is and there are no do-overs.

It is enough to know that you loved someone while they lived in a way that they knew, unconditionally, that they were loved.

It is enough.

Move forward as you can, but whatever the cost, move forward.

To remain where you are, in grief and sorrow is the last thing in the world the one you lost would want.

Don”t be afraid to live.

If you aren’t afraid to live, then when your time comes, you won’t be afraid to die.

It is a circle.

Don’t break it.

James Taylor sang …

“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 sadness.

A knowing.

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.

Love is the most powerful of emotions

Love is the most powerful of emotions

soulful eyes

soulful eyes

Taking stock …

and re-evaluating my thoughts, emotions, feelings, friendships; things in general.  I find myself in an odd position.  This time of year is very difficult for me.  I have, since the death of my husband, taken at least one day near his birthday, which incidentally, is tomorrow, off from work.

I never know how I will wake up … it could be the “well, just another day” mode, or the “hysterical, uncontrolled, inconsolable sobbing” mode.  So, I avoid contact with the human race during that time because I am most unpredictable.

I know that I am not the only person who faces such days with this outlook.  I would love to say that I am free from the memories, thoughts and flashbacks.

Actually, I could say that.

But I would be lying, and I am a terrible liar.

If I have learned anything, it is that it is good to know yourself.  I think I have that one nailed.  Unfortunately for my family and friends, I remain an enigma.

Sigh.

It makes me feel a bit disconcerted that, after all this time, the birthday of someone who has been dead for years still has the ability to effect me in this way.

Don’t roll your eyes.  Of course I loved him and miss him.  But over three years later?  Give me a damn break already …

I had planned to spend the day at my favorite waterfall and then at a lake that holds special significance to me, however, due to an appliance malfunction, I will be at home.

Might as well cook, since I’m going to be here anyway and possibly reap the side benefit of being able to torment the appliance deliveryman with the smell of red sauce simmering on the stove.

I can only hope that he doesn’t find me sobbing like a child.

How awkward would that be?

Either way, I will get through the day and be thankful for many things.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t lament over the things that hurt me, but those are less frequent than the blessings.

There is no point whatsoever in ignoring the white elephant in the room.

I miss my Jim; my Jamie.  I miss seeing his sweet smile on his birthday. I have not, as odd as it may seem, dreamed of him even once, since his death.  I suppose, on some level, I am grateful, for I would hate to wake each morning tormented by the past.

I am not big on torment … or pain … or sorrow.

Life goes on and we either live it leave it.

I choose to live it.  Even when it makes me sad for without sadness sprinkled throughout, how could I truly embrace the joy.

I am a Sagittarian optimist.  I am, even as the tears threaten to fall, looking for the silver lining.  The tears will still fall.  My heart will still mourn.  My thoughts will still stray.  But at the end of the day, I will believe that everything will be ok.  And it will be.

Glass. Half. Full.

It’s just the way I roll.

spiritofjim

fear and uncertainty …

filled his blue eyes, open wide and full of worry.  At first glance, from the hallway, the only visible things were a single foot protruding from beneath a blanket and a partially filled urinal on the tray table.

I wondered, before walking into the room to speak with him, what I would find.  I was already feeling badly for him simply knowing that a container holding his urine sat on a table where soon, his lunch would be placed.

I felt that surely, had there been family present, that would not have been the case and, not to my surprise, I found him alone.

He was worried.  It was evident in his sad, sad eyes.  They were wide open, showing the incredible blueness, wrinkled at the edges from a lifetime of emotion; laughter, tears, anger.

He was a widower.  He had children, but his voice betrayed his attempt at courage as he spoke of wishing to go home.  His blue eyes became even more sad as he spoke of a home that he knew, in his heart, he would not return to.

I felt a wave of righteous fury toward his children, none of whom had been to visit him during his week-long stay in the hospital, as he spoke of having nobody to care for him.

I thought of my own father.  Thought of his sadness were he to lose my mother and be left to live out his days without the woman that he loved more than life.

Many times, and to my mother I have said such, I have prayed that if my parents cannot die at the same time, I hope my dad goes first.  I cannot bear to even entertain the thought of him trying to cope without my mother.  He is strong in body and spirit, but would be lost without her.

She, on the other hand, is tough as nails.  A survivor full of beauty and strength and would, though with sadness and tears, move on and make the best of a seriously bad situation.

While her tears would cut me deeply, tears shed by my dad shatter me.  I would be of little use to him, not that he would last for long without her as he would soon die of sadness.  I know this as surely as I know the sun rises in the East.

But I digress.  I wasn’t speaking of my parents, but of poor, sad-eyed mister who lay in the hospital bed, dwarfed by the room, confused by the lingo, hurt by the antipathy of his children.

He wanted to go home and held, other than that wish, no other ambition or hope.

It would not come to pass.  He would not go home.  Not to the home where he lived for over fifty years with his wife before she died.  Not to the home where his children, who had now abandoned him, had been raised.

He would not go back to where the garden once thrived with vegetables and a myriad of flowers in the summertime, the trees bursting full and golden in Autumn.

He would not walk the familiar halls that had brought him comfort in his time of need.

He would not sleep in the bed that conformed to his body due to years of use.

He would be a stranger among strangers.

It took all of my strength and everything I could dig from the depths of myself to not burst into tears while speaking to him; seeing him old and broken and alone.

His wide eyes, full of worry, filled me with compassion and empathy.  I, in my mind and heart, brought him home with me.  Though there is an unwritten rule among nurses to not become too attached, he has been here, dancing on the edges of my thoughts, since the day I met him.

I have cried for him, prayed for him and inwardly cursed his children for their inattentiveness.   I want, in these last years of his life, happiness for him.

I try no to get too attached, but I am human and I fall in love with those the world has so blithely displaced.  He will remain in my prayers and though I will likely never see him again, his eyes will haunt me.

They haunt me now as do so many others; young, old, suffering, addicted, betrayed, sickened, world-weary souls who need, more than anything else, to be loved.

I have said it before and I reiterate it now … I am too softhearted to be a  nurse.  I always have been.

violinhands

Leviticus 19:32  ~ Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.

Waiting on lightning bugs …

is one of the trials of my patience when it come to summer.  Each night, since the first day of May, I sit, watching out the window across the fields in hopes of seeing one of the blinking lights that screams, boldly and with great emphasis,  SUMMER IS HERE!

I realize it is too early, too cool, too soon, too much still May, and therefore, still springtime,  for them to appear; I watch anyway.

And I wait.

There are few things more glorious than sitting on the front porch under the sweltering heat of a hot summer night with the myriad of stars and planets pulsing and shimmering overhead and watching the flicker and fade of one of nature’s triumphs.

I’m pretty sure that in the rest of the world (by the rest, I am referring to “not the South”), they are called fireflies.  A rose by any other name and all that jazz.  Around here, we call them lightning bugs.

The sky has already changed.  The daylight lasts longer, the clouds in the evening (and with the seemingly constant rain of late, the clouds are abundant) are laced with tinges of red and gold from the setting sun.  The beauty of that light never fails to take my breath away.

I am spellbound by it.

In the mountains, it isn’t always easy, especially living in a valley, to see the sunset.  The remnants of it in the clouds, however, is an awesome and spectacular experience.

The only thing more awesome are the Godlights that, although few and far between, show their stunning beauty as the rays of the sun spear upward, demanding to be noticed, across a not quite, but nearly summer sky.

May has, since the death of my husband a few years ago, been a hard month for me.  Not this year, though.  I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to let the memory of his upcoming birthday diminish my joy of late spring.  I decided to, instead of dreading it, dedicate it to him, to my Jim,  in a remembrance, of sorts, of he who cherished me in a way that I still struggle with understanding.

So I did.  I dedicated May to Jim for it is a glorious thing to be cherished.  I miss him sometimes in a way that threatens to destroy my hard-won independence … but life goes on, whether I am up to the task or not.

So far, it has been a thrilling, energizing, encouraging experience.  I should have done it long ago, but I suppose I wasn’t ready before now.  I reckon, on some level, I was hoping to find that one person that I could say anything to and know that I would, even when I was confusing, incoherent, rambling and discombobulating, be understood.

Sometimes, I think I have found them and others, I wonder if I’m only wishing for something that will never be again.  I try, sometimes in vain, not to dwell on it.

I am a dreamer, first and foremost, after all.  To put that burden off on someone who doesn’t really understand me on the most basic level is, at the very least, unfair, and even as I seek it, I understand that it is too much to ask.

There will never be another Jim.  I understand that now, after nearly four years.  I know that.  I accept it, finally.  I don’t expect, anymore, for anyone to understand me so perfectly, so completely.  At day’s end, I look to myself and my Heavenly Father, who understands me even better than Jim, to fulfill my needs.

I do, however, wish fervently, for lightning bugs.   I suppose, it is in part, due to my Sagittarius nature , for I am optimistic to a fault and hope for things that are well beyond the scope of normalcy.

I am not ashamed of this.  I live life with my glass half-full, my eyes wide open and my heart always seeking the best in everyone around me.

Long live the Centaur.

George Jones’ death …

took me back, in my mind, many years and unearthed several memories that I had suppressed.  As a kid, whether we were driving to church or going on vacation (for my Dad was in charge of choosing stations), there was one of two things on the radio; sports or George Jones.

At the time, I thought that surely, this was the worst thing that could happen to a person.

However, as I got older, and developed my own taste in music (and sports, though that is irrelevant in this post), I found that I listened to quite a bit of George.

Or “Possum”, as he was familiarly known.  It wasn’t the most flattering nickname, but in reality, he really did, somewhat resemble, a possum.

Sorry George, but as my dad is fond of saying, “the truth will stand when the world’s on fire”.

When I look at my LP collection, I find that there are several of his albums there.  When I still had eight-tracks (and for those of you too young to know what that is, look it up) there were many “George Jones” in that collection, too.

My dad was a fan.  I was always trying to impress my dad and win his approval, so I suppose that some of my “George admiration” came from that.  But at some point, I realized that I just plain liked his music.

I also liked Conway Twitty, John Conlee, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Elvis and Lefty Frizzelle (just to name the ones that come easily, without stressing my brain, to mind).

So sue me.

The music today that calls itself country has little to do with what I grew up with.  As a matter of fact, it has little to do with music at all, but then, I may be biased.

OK, I am biased.  But so what?  Even though I have a hard time playing a note of music, I know what it should sound like.  I understand it on a personal level and appreciate it in the very basic way that one understands and appreciates it.

It is a huge, very consuming part of my everyday life.

But I digress.  I was talking about George and the impact his death had on me and I know, without asking, on my Dad.

I don’t consider myself immortal.  I believe with my whole being that, if I died right now, I would go to Heaven and I have no illusions about living forever.  But …

Seeing my idols and the people that I have “known” all my life die … well, that makes me think.

I don’t remember a time in my life that George wasn’t a part of it.  He was popular when I was born (or so I am told, as I don’t remember those first few days) and became moreso in the years to come.  And now he is dead.  His music will live on for decades and generations, but the man himself is gone from this world.  That is a sobering thought.

It hurts my heart nearly as much as when Andy Gibb died.  That was a black day in my life.  I loved him more than life, but he chose drugs over life.  Choices.  It all comes down, once again, to choices, BUT, I digress once again.

I cried like a child when, first Maurice Gibb and then again when Robin Gibb died.  The Brothers Gibb (Bee-Gees) were my favorites and remain so, even though only Barry remains.  Sometimes, when I think about them young and beautiful, singing their songs as only they could, I still cry. (If I keep this up, I will be crying before the night is out).

It was an end of an era for me, as it was when Conway died, as it was … then when Waylon died … then when Johnny died; well, this could go on for pages, but you get the idea.

The same can be said of George.  I’ll miss you, Possum, and will, most likely, cry for you now and again as well because … well, because I loved you, too.

RIP, George … RIP.

Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?  Who, indeed?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi3GgoLtlWk

Today, I had to go to court …

because I let my driver’s license expire.  I’m not certain how it happened as I renew all of my licenses, passport, tags and anything else I can, online.  But I did and I found myself sitting in a courtroom waiting to be chastised by a Judge who, though he seemed friendly enough, intimidated me to the point of nausea.

If an officer hadn’t pulled me over on a snowy evening as I was coming home from art class just to inform me that I had a tail light out, I would still be driving around on an expired license.  I didn’t look at the date.  Why would I?  That is what I have email reminders for.  But this time, the reminder didn’t come and I was told that I had been driving around for SEVERAL MONTHS on an expired license.

It only occurred to me later that he didn’t have me call someone to come get me, but let me drive away on that expired license.

The officer was kind and I think he actually felt a bit guilty that he had to ticket me, but what else, really, could he do?  He told me that all I had to do was call “the number noted in red” on the ticket, could pay it over the phone and avoid an appearance in court.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  Well, there was a flip-side to this particular coin.

I called the number a few days later to pay the ticket and hung up the phone feeling like a common criminal.  The lady told me that “people who are charged with driving on an expired, revoked or suspended license are not allowed to pay over the phone”.  So I requested the afternoon off and prepared to show up, pay my fine and be done with it.

As the day drew nearer, the butterflies in my stomach increased.  Each day, I thought of little else and began to imagine all manner of scenarios in my mind (and my imagination is top notch).  I started having nightmares, sleepless nights and long, stress-laden days.

I kept reminding myself that this is only a ticket, and I encouraged myself by remembering that I renewed my driver’s license within 48-hours of getting the ticket.  It was all good, all OK and there was nothing, in reality, to get all worked up about.

This morning, however, when I woke up, after spending the night plagued by nightmares, complete with creepy music and all, the first thought that came into my head was COURT!! (a reminder to be careful what I pray for, for the other “the minute my eyes open thoughts” were much more pleasant, even if they were annoying)

I went through my usual routine, minus coffee, for somewhere along the way, I had used the last of it and didn’t have a back-up bag in the pantry … but I digress.

I went to work and tried as best I could to focus on what had to be done and keep the nagging worry to a minimum.  I kept re-reminding myself that this was only a ticket.  Only a ticket.  Only a ticket.

I showed up well before my appointed time, in my nursing uniform, complete with band-aids that hadn’t been used stuck to my name badge and took my place at the back of the courtroom.  The light above the Judge flickered continuously and I wondered how he could sit there, hour after hour, with that going on.  I focused on that silly light until I had worked myself up even more, convincing myself that by the time my turn came, he would be half-crazed, as was I, from that constant, maddening flickering.

And I never moved a muscle.

For nearly two hours.

I had the beginnings of palpitations before I ever reached the courthouse, but after sitting in the courtroom, my resting heart rate (which is usually between 55-65) was well over 100.  I was certain that I was going to either pass out, throw up or die.  Dying, at this point, was the best choice.  How sad is that?

After what seemed like hours, my name was called and, instead of going directly in front of the Judge through the gate that separates the criminals from the Bench, I went the long way around and entered through the exit.  I apologized  when he commented on it and his laughter should have eased my mind, but it didn’t.  It took every ounce I will I could muster to not simply burst into tears in front of him and humiliate myself the rest of way.

I remembered to say “Sir”, “Your Honor” and “thank you” while the officer who gave me the ticket never uttered a single word.  I’m not certain it was even him, though, because at the time of the ticket-giving, his bright headlights were in my rear-view mirror and his flashlight in my eyes making him completely back-lit.

I couldn’t have picked him, with any confidence, out of a line-up.

When I finally was given my leave, paid my fine and left the building, I made it nearly to my car before I vomited and then burst into sobbing tears.  I put my convertible top down as that usually calms me, but I cried all the way home.  What a day.

I can promise this … I have looked at the expiration date on my driver’s license no less than a hundred times since I renewed it.  I will likely renew it a year early just to avoid the situation I found myself in today.

I am eternally grateful that I have a full pack of Oreo Double-Stuff cookies on hand and an unopened pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cannoli ice cream in the freezer because if there ever was a day for it, this was it.