The First Leg of a Final Journey.
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” JRR Tolkein
*Fair warning, I’ve gone a bit “Lord of the Rings” on this post. When things are close to the heart it always seems easier to use another’s words.
So, we’ve started this Hospice journey, a final journey with my mom. In many ways it’s as if a large part of her is already gone. Sometimes I look at her and think of the Lord of the Rings movie–of Theodin, King of Rohan in the Two Towers. It’s like she’s shrinking, losing more and more of herself, becoming a wizened shadow of the real person she was. Fortunately, we don’t have a Grima Wormtongue around. Though I think about God’s original creation of humans. God created us in his image but Adam and Eve chose to listen to The Deceiver instead of God. At that point, death and decay came into the world. The Serpent, the original Wormtongue, was there in the Garden whispering to Eve, just as the fictional Wormtongue whispered to Theodin. The result is that shrinking distortion–that decent into death that distorts the God-image.
I’m not great with literary symbolism. I’m not a theologian. My husband usually mentions the symbolism in a move (or book) at which point the penny drops and I say, “Ah, now I get it.” So I’m not sure this will make sense to anyone but me, but these are my thoughts as I go through the day now. As I wash and dress my mom, when I hand her her toothbrush or washcloth and she asks, “What am I supposed to do?” She can no longer feed herself. She picks up a fork or spoon and turns it over and over in her hand. She can’t remember which end goes in her hand or how to use the utensil. Her body becomes more and more bent, unable to straighten, her muscles are weak and her skin, tissue-paper thin. My dad, ever hopeful, says, “I think she’s getting better.” I don’t know how to answer him. I see no evidence of it and even if she is, I know it’s only temporary.
Even so, I wasn’t ready for the parade of folks visiting us when we got home from the hospital. We’ve had three nurses visit, equipment delivered, a social worker visit and a chaplain. A massage therapist called to make an appointment. I want to tell them it’s too soon. I’m not ready. She looks the same as yesterday.
As a hospital nurse I saw people die. It always feel like they take a bit of you with them, like a tiny bite from your soul. It feels like a failure because we are supposed to fix them. I’ve heard people say it is a sacred privilege to be with someone as they leave this earth. I always feel uneasy, expecting to bump into the Angel of Death escorting an immortal soul from this life to the next. Even so, I would always rather be with them than have them die alone. Though it occurs to me, we can only die alone, in a sense. No one can go with us. It’s a solitary trip.
I’ve watched people die quickly, unexpectedly and I’ve watched people die slowly. To me, slow always seems harder. I can remember saying goodbye in my head to a patient I was sure would not last the night, only to arrive at work the next day and there they were. I can remember thinking how can they suffer so long? Why does one person cling to life by a gossamer thread for days, sometimes weeks, when someone else, who to my eye, seems just as close to death, leaves so suddenly it’s as if they walked off a cliff?
I have cried with their families. Sometimes I’ve cried alone. Sometimes I’ve remained dry-eyed. I don’t know why I react differently. I do remember once crying with a wife as her husband died. She asked me why would God take her husband who was such a good man and helped so many others? I had no answer to give her. I still don’t. The ways of God are hidden from me.
I am struck dumb like Job when God asked him, “Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundation…while the morning stars sang together and all the angels sang for joy?” The sun and moon don’t take direction from me, nor does the snow or rain. I know my understanding is limited. I accept it. I don’t know the future.
“No half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.” JRR Tolkein
One of the Hospice workers asked me if I lost my faith when my daughter was murdered. I never did. I was very angry with God. I ranted and raved at him. I told him I didn’t like the way he was running the universe. I guess my answer is like a line from a movie I recently saw, “You can’t be mad at someone you don’t believe in.”
My mom’s impending death seems easier to accept as she approaches her 92nd year of life. I know I will miss her terribly but I also know she’s tired, her body is worn out and she’s in pain. She’s ready to go to heaven. So we will continue on this Hospice journey. We’ll hold her hand until we have to let go.
Have a good caregiving day,