Tuesdays at the Nursing Home- The Truth in Goodbye

Tuesdays are not good for self-pity. I can feel like the loneliest woman on the planet at 10 a.m and utterly ashamed of myself by two in the afternoon. That's how it was last week. I came dragging into the home, miserable and I left, well, I left more miserable...but somehow more grounded.

My last patient of the day was new and I did the intake sitting on a stiff-backed chair between him and the bed where his wife lay dying.

I knew her...Well, had known her a year or so before- back when she was angry at the disease trapping her inside her uncooperative body. She was angry at her husband, too, for bringing her to the nursing home against her will and insisting they both live out the rest of their days there.

Now she was almost free. Wasted away to a bony skeleton of her former self, her mouth stretched open in a round O as she breathed in deep, irregular, crescendos of sound that are the hallmark of active dying. Periodically, she would stop and every time I would silently pray that this wouldn't be her last breath. Not just yet. Not while her husband sat quietly crying by her side and telling me the story of their 63 year marriage.

"She had a way of making her will known," he said at one point, chuckling softly. "It wasn't always easy being married to Doris, but we made it work."

When I asked if the hospice nurse had been helpful, he nodded.  "Oh, she's an angel," he said. "She's been so good to us. But she's brutal. I told her I was praying Doris could get healed and the nurse just looked at me and said Doris had less than 48 hours left to live." A tear spilled over onto his cheek and he wiped it away with a shaking hand. "She tells it like it is and that's good. At a time like this, you need to hear the truth."

I nodded and sat quietly listening to Doris breathe.

I suppose we all need to hear the truth spoken when it's time to say goodbye- we need to soak it in until our minds can make sense of it.  We need to let it echo in us until it resounds in our hearts, until finally, the pain of our goodbye is overshadowed by the peace of memory.


LBDDiaries said...

You don't want to know my opinion of that hospice nurse. I think ugly would be in there somewhere. Perhaps she deals with death too much and should take a step back if she can't deal with people more compassionately. I do NOT believe it is wrong to hold on to hope until the last minute simply because I've seen way too many last minute miracles. Then again, I wasn't there so... ugh. No wonder you were miserable. And maybe that was what he needed but ugh just ugh. My husband temp pastored in a nursing home for 8 years - some asked for prayer to go on, some asked for prayer to continue living. Both prayers were answered. It is heartbreaking either way.

Nancy said...

Thanks, LBD. Letting go is terribly hard, sometimes on everyone involved...I know I struggle with it. Thanks for your compassion. I love hearing from you.