Saturday, January 16, 2010

Thank you, Isabella

I seem to be in a non-writing mode for the last couple of weeks. Life has been busy. Several things have happened in the last weeks; mainly, I am fully involved in my job. School is an encompassing presence. Jon and I have been just being together. It seems that our jobs have become a large force in both our lives, occupying so much of our time that when we do have time together, we just like to be together. And, of course, there is the force that is Isabella.

I love being with her and Adrienne. We are “The Girls.” At least once a week, the three of us have a day together. Mostly, we end up going shopping or something like that. But, mostly it is just being with Iz that is the main attraction.

Watching her, I am beginning to see what life is all about. It is all about having fun, exploring, experiencing new things, conquering fears, loving, eating and laughing. Most of us have lost this ability. We become mired in our problems, lost in our thoughts; struggling to maintain an image of ourselves that is nothing but a dream.

As a child, I was criticized for just about everything I did. It was painful. I remember the feeling of reaching out to try something new or being in the middle of something exciting and the WORD would come from on high… “What’s the matter with you?” Or something like that. I would physically recoil. So, I began to actively avoid being criticized. The result being always trying (and never succeeding) to be perfect. Mostly, I wouldn’t attempt things that might draw attention to me. I withdrew into myself. This, of course, engendered a special sort of criticism.

My main motivation became avoiding criticism at all cost. I lived my life according to my family’s view of life and not mine.

There is the set up for a life unfulfilled.

Watching my granddaughter, I see what life is meant to be… fun. Live in the present moment. Forget about what your family or neighbors think of you. They are going to think of you exactly how they thought of you years ago. Every person in my family thinks I’m flighty, inept and a little dumb. Strictly average compared to their specialness. No matter what I do, who or what I became, that’s how they think of me.

The sad part is that for years, I lived down to their expectations. I set myself up for that life unfulfilled.

Thankfully, the spirit within exerted itself and is leading me to my true self. That Being that explores, enjoys and is. My granddaughter is teaching me that. We run through Macy’s touching mannequins, looking in mirrors, hiding in the racks, watching the escalators crisscross each other carrying people up and down totally fascinated. We go out to lunch and look for tomatoes because tomatoes are the best food in the entire world. Oh, look there is a rock. We love rocks. We can even sit on this one. Wait, here is another one.

This is what life is all about, experiencing the joy and the love of it all. Now.

Thank you, Isabella. I love you.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Song For Emily

I have been seeing Emily for about eight weeks, maybe a little longer than that. She is an eighty-eight year old woman with end stage COPD. The first time I met her she was in the kitchen eating breakfast, oxygen tube in her nose and a long hose leading to a tank in another room. I couldn’t see it from where I was.

I came with one of the nurses to drop off some medicine for her. Her husband Fred opened the door to let us in. Fred has Alzheimer’s. He still functions, but he has periods of mental confusion and he needs to be watched closely because he has a tendency to wander off. This day he was smiling brightly.

Emily is a very frail woman now. She is thin and has difficulty breathing. She is very sweet, but I think she is very strong-willed too. After all, she started a successful business and ran it for years. She and Fred lived in Germany after the war for four year, Fred was in the service, and he had an important job. They came back to the States, had the American dream. She raised four children; buried one of them four years ago. Faced Fred’s illness and now her own.

This is where I enter.

I came into Emily’s life right at the very end. It’s my job. I never know my patients when they were young and hearty. I see them when they are old and frail. Most are unable to do simple things for themselves. Many cannot feed themselves or it’s a true victory when they do. One of my patients wants to hold her food and is very frustrated over the pureed foods that she is fed. So much so, she went on a hunger strike until they started giving her the foods she craved, because she refuses to eat otherwise. She craves shrimp!

Emily isn’t like that. She is still semi-independent. She walked up until a few days ago. She eats at the kitchen table; takes herself to the bathroom. When I visit, she is in the den, the phone by her side; it never stops ringing, people calling to see how she is or asking a question that only she can answer. She is very thin and yes, she is frail, but she is also very much alive. If it weren’t for the oxygen hose in her nose, you probably would think this is just an old lady in her house on the phone. But, Emily is dying.

She was given the diagnosis last February, she was told she has six months left to live. She came home to die. The first time I went for a visit on my own, I told her she was given a gift, she has out lived her diagnosis by four months, so God gave her a little gift. She liked that. As we talked… or rather she talked, I was listened to her story; I looked in her eyes and in that moment I thought, “I am in love with this woman.” Sounds silly, doesn’t it? She a dying old woman, I’m on the far side of middle aged straight woman and I think to myself that I am so taken with her that I am in love with her. But, it’s true, she touched me so deeply there is no other way to describe it. I’m in love with her.

So, every week, I came and spoke with her. Sometimes our conversations were about life, sometimes about Fred and what will happen to him after she’s gone, sometimes about mundane things. And sometimes about death. Emily drove the conversation; I just went along for the ride. Each time I left, I thought about how she touches me. Emily is a little forgetful; she repeats stories, sometimes just a few moments later. I suppose that it is a lack of oxygen from her disease, I don’t know for sure. I never point it out to her; I just let her tell the story all over again, just like it’s brand new.

Time went by, and each week there was a noticeable decline. Emily looked frailer (if that’s possible!) and her breathing more labored. She was thinner and eating less and less. I was sad because I knew the end was coming soon… and so did she.

The other day, I went to see Emily, I went because I knew from her nurse that the end was very near and I wanted to see Emily one last time. When I arrived her family was all there, I knew she was bad, but I was shocked to see how bad she really was. She looked so frail and delicate; her skin was translucent. She was in bed, hunched over on her side propped up with pillows.

She spoke, but so softly and barely audible. When see saw me, she reached out her hand and indicated she wanted me to sit on the bed with her. Which of course, I did. I held her hand for a long time. She told me she loved Fred, her children, And she told me she loved me. She said to me that all she sees is love. Love is everywhere.

Her daughter drew me aside and asked if I would say the last rites for her mother. I was shocked… me? Say the last rites? Oh, my God, the last rites! Oh, wait, I’m a minister, right? I said yes and asked for a few minutes. I went off to the side and quietly prayed for God to use me as a channel for his love and peace. I breathed into the moment. Whipped out my trusty ol’ Bible to the 23rd Psalm, some lavender oil and said okay. The family, the nurse, the aid all gathered round and I opened my mouth and out came words. I think there were good words. I’m not sure exactly what I said, but I did it. I cried, the family cried, but Emily smiled. I did good.

I sat with her some more. She was very peaceful after our little service. She seemed very much at ease and pain free, her breathing was even a little better too. When I left, Emily took my hand and thanked me. I said, “No, Emily, thank you. You were an amazing woman and it was a gift to me that we met.” Emily held my hand and I wished her Godspeed. I asked if I could kiss her and she agreed. I kissed her and wiping it off, I told her I got lipstick on her cheek and she smiled and said, “I love you.”

Happy New Year.