Where Lives Intersect: gone but not forgotten
**Trigger warning: this post contains language around death and dying. **
When I was a hospice social worker, the holiday season was one of major losses for me. Between thanksgiving and the new year, I was filled with this feeling of unease. My nerves were like a wet, electrocuted cat. For reasons I am still trying to figure out, without fail it seemed that we had a high number of deaths in that time period. I have my theories about why this. In my personal life it was holiday festivities as usual. In my professional life, the losses piled up exponentially.
A couple of years into my career, I made it a time of reflection and reminiscing. I actively thought of my favourite and memorable clients (the two are not always the same). I intentionally called them to the forefront of my mind and heart. Memories of the smell of their room. The feel of the age spots on edematous or bony hands. The almost perceptible sound of applying lip balm to dry, soon-to-be blue and lifeless lips. A last conversation. A last laugh. A last visit. And I remembered them. I feel the feelings. Sadness. Relief. And I honour them.
Sometimes I feel a little guilty for thinking of others' loved ones. Like it's not my place. I only got a snapshot of them, after all, many at the worst they've ever been. But I had such a unique and special place. I got to make that time count. To be let into the life of a stranger on the verge of death, no! REBIRTH! The weight and wonder and depth of that never got old for me. I understood my place, my role. To be one of the last at the near end, my goodness! To do the most good one possibly could before a soul departs. Does it get more sacred? More holy? The collector of stories. The bringer of comfort. And also, how strange to some. Weird. Morbid. I don't know why I'm like this, I only know that I am. I am a collection of the people whose lives have intersected mine. It just happens that while they were at the obvious end of theirs, I still have more to go. Now that I am no longer in the field, I miss that holiday season of losses and the chance to reminisce with my colleagues. The chance to stand in the doorway of the room my beloved client died in. To remember.
This holiday was no different in the feeling, just different in coping and honouring. This year, I have time to write about it. This post is dedicated to their memories, their families and those who work in the field still.
See below this picture for some memories of my clients.
|Photo by Flickr user Thorsten Fabian. Public Domain.
Here are some of those intersections.
One of my earliest clients was a truck driver with an alcohol pickled liver. He had one significant other who was young, distraught and didn't have two red pennies to rub together. There was no money to bury or cremate him. Two options: indigent fund or body donation. He chose the latter. I worked with him to get this set up. In between phone calls to enroll in a programme while his mind was still his, I would wheel him out to the garden for a smoke. I'd ask him about being a truck driver and his tattoos. He told me his truck driver code name was Panty Snatcher. I haven't forgotten you, sir.
There's the lady who taught me to water her African Violet making sure I never got the leaves wet.
The sassy lady who loved purple. She oscillated between sweetness and tossing her coffee at you soap-opera style. If only her family knew we'd dodge a cup of expertly tossed acid if it meant she knew we loved her no matter what. We called her "Mom."
My sweet client who always slept in a recliner so she could breathe. Surrounded by books of all sorts, always got the morning paper. We had so many deep conversations about love, marriage, parenting, faith, her dying friends, her own impending death. I still miss you!
The brick layer who had the softest hands that I made a point to hold and shake each official and unofficial visit.
The Veteran who we made an impromptu recognition ceremony in his home surrounded by his wife and family, dying hours after being honoured. I'll not soon forget you.
The sophisticated lady with dementia who assigned me a new nationality each visit. I truly enjoyed you!
The beautiful lady who hated to get out of bed or eat. Eventually we went on tours of the hallways stopping to look at the door decorations during the holidays. Turns out you loved chocolate milk and had a wicked -harp, self deprecating sense of humour. I wish you believed me when I told you I'd kill for your hair!
The man who waited two weeks in a comatose state with his ex-wife visiting each day only to stick it to her one more time by dying on February 14th. Touché, sir!
The lady who had me in stitches after each visit. Always ready to see Jesus but making the most of it until you saw Him face to face.
The crotchety old man I won over with fried chicken and green beans.
Or the bed-bound deep thinker who got special food deliveries from me and the chaplain! Remember the pizza with jalapeño you inhaled?! Your obvious joy from this small thing still warms me.
Cheers and bottoms up to all the clients I shared beverages with And huzzah to those I wheeled to the smoke up to light up even though it left me in a cloud of smoke that lingered all day. You were worth it and memories have lingered even longer.
To the 3 women I met on December 24th while on call and to the years of fun and eventually hard memories we shared. Thank you for sharing your family with me. I'll never look at a red windbreaker or a Daiquiri the same again!
The tiny yet powerful woman who had one of the most perfect deaths I've ever seen. The sun rising over your bed through the curtains, a nod to your theatre days. I lift a glass of Cutty Sark/Dewar's to you, ma'am!
The woman who hated her oxygen bag because it was ugly and would rather fight for her breath than wear that ghastly thing! I admire your standards and I miss our visits dearly. I just drove by your balcony the other day. Thank you for not being mad when chaplain and I asked housekeeping to let us sneak a bouquet of flowers into your apartment for your birthday!
To the man who was full of wisdom and a life well-lived. No fear of death. You were the sharpest dresser in all the land. I'd have loved to go joy riding in your Lincoln. There was almost always the threat of inclement weather on visits to your home. But I'd face them again to experience your company.
To the lady so curved she looked like she was sitting up in her body bag, I will not forget your faithful use of Pond's face cream.
The client who would let me read her devotional and always worried about being able to afford her weekly hair appointments. I won't forget you.
To the gentleman I shared a birthday with. I still celebrate yours, too.
The lady who lived for her birthday parties, margaritas and laughing until we were both in tears. I never actually thought you'd die. I cannot forget you.
That one couple and daughter who offered delicious champagne at my client's birthday party...that is one of my biggest regrets to this day. I'll never say no to champagne again!
The gentleman who never missed a chance to tell us about the first time he noticed his then teen wife. You two were love birds through and through!
The gentleman who sang Renfro Valley - I miss our visits, your stories, your voice.