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Tuesday, December 8, 2009


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Hospice of Alleghany held a gathering called Tree of Lights. It was a collection of some of the people Hospice worked with over the last year. A little bit of church with everybody singing Silent Night and some preaching about comfort, the Hospice key word. I sat thinking I must be past the mournful state of mind, because none of it resonated with me. My wandering mind went to Jr and the memories seeing the Hospice nurses who helped immeasurably, and a few tears ran down the side of my nose. It probably looked like I was getting something out of the preaching when I was off in my own mind. Growing up, church was the place where I had to sit still for an hour and my mind ran wild. I heard plenty of what was said, but I heard it over and over so many times my mind took a life of its own. It still does that. It must be automatic after so much practice in childhood.

After the service we all went downstairs to eat from a tremendous spread of finger food and cookies and cake. People standing and talking, sitting and talking, several conversations going on through the place. I saw Porter Sprinkle's widow, Bobbie. She was Jr's first wife's cousin. She mentioned Maggie, Jr's first wife, I'd called the day of Jr's passing, saying Maggie wants to talk with me again. I said I'd call her tomorrow, but now that I look at tomorrow's schedule, I'll have to wait til next day. I only knew a few people there, and they were all good to see. These were all people who have done as I did with Jr over the last year. I thought I'd like to talk with some of the ones I didn't know, but I'm not good at starting conversation with people I don't know. I simply can't. I did every day in the store, but that was a special circumstance. In a stand around and talk situation, I usually stand around and watch.

Seeing the various Hospice workers I've come to know was a good occasion. Mary Lee, the grief counselor, was a friend in those three months of Hospice help. There were times, not many, 2 or 3, I was at a loss, didn't know what to do, rather did know what to do, but didn't want to, burnt out to a degree, frustrated, partially paralyzed into inaction not knowing where to start. One time I went to the living room and walked in circles until it came to me to call Hospice. Michelle, Jr's primary nurse and Sarah, the alternate nurse. Both came running in my times of mental paralysis and took care of whatever fix Jr was in at the moment while I looked on in awe and gratitude. Therein was that comfort they speak of so highly.

When I talked with Vickey initially about Hospice and she told me what they were about, stressing comfort, I was dumbfounded, because point by point what she was saying was what I had been frustrated expecting of the medical community. I said my role is to keep Jr as comfortable as I was able. I didn't aim to control him. I wanted him to have control of his own life to the last breath. Helping him be comfortable is not control. I see it allowing him to have control when he wouldn't be able to on his own, like when he was unable to sit up without help, when he was unable to get from the wheelchair to the bed and the bed to the wheelchair by himself. I wanted to be his hands, do for him what he couldn't do himself, with no attention given to controlling him in any way. I knew him well enough that I could help him get back on track when he was talking and his mind went blank, forgetting what he was saying. I could hand him a key word and he'd be back on track.

The part that got to me tonight was while the preaching was going on. I was seeing Michelle, the nurse, and Judy Bridgeman, who bathed Jr twice a week, and my mind ran to Jr, the last time he said to me, "I couldn't make it without you," 2 days before the final breath. That's when the tears broke loose. He must have said that half a dozen times over the last year, each time with more meaning than before. This last time, when his mind was gone, when he was barely able to move, I went into the bedroom to see how he was, and he was awake. After looking at me with searching eyes that didn't see very well, he extended his arms with hands wide open, "It's you! I couldn't make it without you," voice quivering, hands trembling. I told him I'm here, and I'm not leaving him. The comfort that overcame him was the most visible ever. By this time, there was almost nothing left but consciousness.

Today, by chance, I saw one of the Absentee Police. When she saw me, she turned and walked away. And I was glad. Saved me from having to do it. I was wondering what I was going to do when we came face to face. I didn't have any kind words to say. All I could think was the lies she'd told about me in her efforts to keep Jr in the Independence lumber yard, and the schemes, coming to the funeral to sign the book and leaving before the funeral. I felt a tremendous clenching of the heart from disgust. When I felt that, I let it go and had a good laugh. If she wants to be decent with me, I'll be decent with her, but she doesn't want to be decent with me, which is all the better. Now I don't have to bother. I know for a fact, Jr would want me to be decent with her, and I would. But as for what I think of her, in Jr's view, is whatever it is and it's my business. Just be kind. And I will if the chance ever arises. My heart won't be in it, but that's ok.

Something else that came up when we were downstairs eating and talking was the ongoing struggles with certain individuals, Soviet Services, and everything else called Service (again, like a bull serves a cow), when all I wanted was some comfort for Jr in his last months, weeks, days, in his own home, his own bed. I was ready to do whatever I had to do for him to have that right. It was an ongoing struggle. I forget that part. In my memories that play in my head, I never entertain the struggles. I can't help but see them in any way now but the opposition needed to help good things get done. Before I saw that, I disliked opposition intensely. Now I welcome it, say Thank You, come again.

They took me down to the last straw, cornered me, thought they had me, and I came out of there guns a-blazin. This came up in my mind when I was saying to someone I was talking with that when Hospice arrived, all the struggles fell away. It was support from then on instead of opposition at every turn. I was enraged by our medical community's absence of basic human compassion, all the more because I didn't have any idea it was so bad. This is what was going on in my mind, not what I was saying over a plate of finger food. Hospice is what I believed our medical community was. Hospice addresses our basic humanity because our medical community does not. The Hospice people see a full human being with a valid life, get to know the people dying of whatever the individual cause, make their helpless time easy to live with, comfortable in their own homes, in their own beds.

It is no exaggeration to say the Hospice nurses and the others in whatever their roles regard every individual they work with a saint to be held up with love. It's plain practical and good sense, yet comes across radical. It's a measure of how far our collective society has fallen away from our own humanity. Sometimes things have to go too far before they can be corrected. Hospice is the correction, reminding us we are more than just bodies. We are souls with a body, not bodies with a soul.

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