Sunday, June 26, 2005

Inevitable Death

In what seems another lifetime, I worked as a nurse. Most of my career was devoted to critical care nursing, a very intense and extremely busy environment that left little room for examined thoughts. Well into my years as a nurse, I had my first child. While taking care of a dying patient one day, it hit me like a clap of thunder that the elderly man in the bed could be my son many, many years hence. I knew I'd be long gone and wondered who would be taking care of him, who would be there to comfort him, who would be there to hold his hand when the end came? Would he be alone? Would it simply be an overworked and overtired nurse there to see his last breath?

Somehow in that moment, I became more fully formed as a human and a nurse. I always knew the patients I took care of were loved by someone but never truly personalized their experience until I imagined that one of the people I loved most in the world could be in that bed. From that moment on, I encouraged visitors and relatives to stay by their loved one, to be part of the experience of death that is as old as time itself.

Our modern world has taken note that death can be a better experience than it has been in the past. Hospice care is an integral and comforting part of a dying patient's last days but I think the greatest blessing is having a loved one by their side. We come into this world with at least one person who loves us and I think it's important to go out the same way.

The past few weeks have brought tragic news to two dear friends. One is losing her father to terminal cancer and the other her mother. While nothing good can be said about losing a loved one, especially one as loved as a cherished parent, there is a blessing to be found in knowing you have time to say good-bye, time to help each other with the heartache that such a loss entails and time to plan for the end. Both of my friends want more than anything to be available and to help their parent in their last days on earth. Both want to be the person there at the end, just as their parent was present at the beginning of their life. Both want to comfort and help and do something as simple as hold their hand. Love transcends all grief, and I pray they will heal and grow and look back to realize what a gift they were given to be there with hearts full of love at this sad yet inevitable time.
To my dear friends, I hope you'll find comfort with the following poem.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a 1,000 winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sun on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled light
I am the soft star that shines at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there; I did not die.


Anonymous said...

Deborah, your post was so comforting. I've had that poem going through my head the past week. Thank you for posting it.

Anonymous said...

I feel very touched by your post. thank you

Anonymous said...

hi Deborah, I am Vivien's sister. She sent me your blog that you wrote on the day dad died. It felt right to be with Dad when he died and i know that gave us both a lot of comfort. Although we are both sad that he died i think we did our best for him in his last few days. I know Viv had wanted to come over sooner to be with him but he would not have wanted claire to miss out on her activities. he died knowing how much he was loved by everyone. Your post confirms that we did the right thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm Deborah's friend who just lost her mother (on 08/05/05). While I'm so thankful that God gave us a month or so to say all the things we wanted to say to each other, it was so painful to watch her health decline to nothingness.

My dad and I now have a relationship that has grown and is forged forever. The pain of watching my mother die such a slow death would have been unbearable without him.

I have the priceless gift of remembering her last audible words to me, "Morning, sweetie!" Oh God to have just one more morning holding her hand while she slept.

If your mother is still alive, I encourage to visit or call her. Make sure she knows that she's the greatest gift God has ever given you. Time may be shorter than you think.

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