Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On the impending loss of a loved one: Guest post by Julie Graff

Julie Graff

Today I stand aside and give Julie the floor....

TEACH ME TO NUMBER MY DAYS by Julie Graff (guest blogger)

In thinking about death and dying, I keep being reminded of a conversation I once had with the wife of a hospice patient of mine.  It was my privilege to be a private duty hospice nurse for a time, meaning that I spent twelve hours a day with the same patient in his/her home until they passed away.  This being a full time fly-on-the-wall gave me a lot of insight into the whole experience of death as it is experienced by everyone in the household.  I have often been inspired by the dying, but more often, I've been inspired by those who've survived to tell the tale.  Now I am in this lady's shoes.   My own husband is terminally ill, though not nearly ready (I hope) for hospice care.

The lady I'm referring to broke down one day because, she said, she felt guilty for thinking of herself at all during this time.  She was overwhelmed by despair, not knowing WHAT was going to become of her once her husband died.  She "knew" it was selfish and sinful to worry about herself, but really, where was she supposed to live?  Was there enough money?  Who would help her?  She would be ALONE.  What was she to DO with herself?  She was a wicked person.  Her pain was awful.  She would never have revealed it to another soul if she had had any way of keeping it in.  Ashamed of herself, she apologized for collapsing in front of me.  How to console her?

I realized then, that though the dying go through the "five stages of death and dying"--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance,  and their loved ones along with them, those left behind are left to go through this whole shebang all over again.   They are obliged to accept what is unacceptable to them TWICE.  This lady was simultaneously losing her husband AND being set adrift with no idea of what to do, and she would still have a long row to hoe.  I held her.

And I held her.  She went on with her housework.   I eventually became aware of her standing a little straighter.   Later I was certain I was seeing a spark of mischief in her eyes.  Well.  She had prayed while she was working.  This is what she had to say:  "My days are numbered too, dear, and every one of them is precious.  Just because my husband is dying, it doesn't mean that I am not.  We never know absolutely what is going to happen."  So  I told her of two other hospice cases that I had worked where the whole family was geared toward my patient dying but, when no one was looking, another family member died instead--quite out of order and all unexpected, you see.  (It happened twice again when I worked at the hospital.  This is significant because I was actually a nurse for only fourteen months before I was injured on the job.  I don't know what the statistic is on this, but in my experience there has been a high incidence of people dying out of turn... We really never know...)

I asked her what she’d always wanted to do.  Well, she'd always wanted to see Ireland but had been told it was impossible so she'd quit thinking about it.  I wondered, since I happened to know she didn't have a selfish bone in her body, if she couldn't ask her God to help her make a secret plan to go there.  She allowed as this might be "a pretty good i-deee".  Some months after her husband's death, she went to Ireland.  I have no clue as to how she pulled it off.

Now here I am with my days as numbered as anyone else's;  As numbered as they always have been.  Who will die before whom at our house is not known.  I have made my apologies for cracking up.  A plan is being developed.  After all, you never know.

Peace be with you both Julie - we send you love,

Asta x