A moment of silence for those known and unknown…lost to this disease.
Here’s what I don’t know. I don’t know if we assign meaning to the random out of sorrow when we are longing for those we lost or, if there is something truly transcendent that happens when we need it to. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the only thing that does matter is that these otherworldly events bring us comfort when our hearts are heavy, that they make us feel connected to who we lost and what we miss.
I’m in the mist of grief right now. The loss of my Zoey, my precious 14 year old Old English Sheepdog, to sudden death has rocked my world. Some have said that I will feel her presence around me if I am open to it. I’ve suffered profound loss in my life before and I admit, this has not generally been my experience so, to hear this yet again makes me skeptical. That being said, I’ve had two moments since Zoey’s passing that have given me cause to be more open minded.
The other night, I was walking my other Old English Sheepdog Abby. An evening walk was something Zoey, Abby and I did every night together before bed. It was never a long walk, just enough for them to do their business and get a little fresh air before bed. This particular night, was the first time I took Abby alone. I knew it would cut through me and it did. I felt Zoey’s absence intensely, just seeing the bush she usually stopped to sniff every night brought tears to my eyes but, in my desire to keep things as normal as I can for Abby, I swallowed my sadness and we slogged along, a knot in my throat.
Then, I looked up. The sky was full of clouds blurring even the half moon but there was one star that shone brightly. It danced and twinkled in the mist of the dark night sky and as I watched it, a feeling came over me like no other. I felt enveloped by warmth and for the first time in the past two weeks since Zoey’s passing, I felt calm. I didn’t want to cry anymore, at least for that moment and, I knew that star was Zoey. I felt that it was her letting me know that she would always watch over me.
Today, I spent most of the day feeling very numb. I thought I was done weeping, that there was no more use for tears. Crying was feeling like a pointless undertaking, like there was no more cathartic value in it. I don’t want to be numb but when the tears don’t come, they don’t come and you can’t force them. I also don’t want to be crying all the time. I can’t really have what I want, which is Zoey back at my feet, by my side or playing with her sister. So, I spent most of the day going through the motions, functioning but not really present. I even attempted to go to the grocery store but on the way, I turned on the radio and the song, “I will always love you” by Whitney Houston came on. It’s a song I have not heard for years.
The song begins like this…”If I should stay, I would only be in your way. So I’ll go but I know I’ll think of you every step of the way. And I… will always love you…” I burst into tears. I immediately thought of Zoey. I thought of Zoey being old and deciding it was her time to go, that she felt she was in the way long enough, that she didn’t want to be a burden anymore, not that she was but she always thought of me first. I know she did. She only wanted my happiness. Her love was completely unconditional. I think she knew my greatest fear for her was that she’d lose her independence. So, she did the last loving thing she could do for me and died quickly, without ever losing her dignity.
The song goes on…”I hope life treats you kind. And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of. And I wish you joy and happiness. But above all this I wish you love.” The tears continued to pour down my face. I had to pull the car over. I wasn’t numb anymore. I was a puddle but, again I felt this incredible feeling of Zoey’s spirit. I felt like she wanted to tell me one last time so that I would have no doubt, just how much she loved me because she really loved me. As I did her. This was not nearly the comforting moment I felt looking at that twinkling star in the sky the night before but, it was poignant and profound and somehow made me feel yet again, that perhaps there is something to being open to allowing the spirit of those we love to surround us in our sorrow, that maybe it’s a good thing to be open to idea our love transcends all earthly understanding. Love is in fact forever and it will find its way to us after death, if we allow it to.
I have been thinking a lot about grief and loss and death lately. This time of year holds a lot of difficult anniversaries for me in that regard. What I have figured out about loss and grief and death is that even though they feel very much like the absence of life, they are actually in fact the essence of it.
We cannot appreciate what we have to its fullest until it is actually gone. We may try very hard not to take the people and things in our lives we hold dearest for granted, but then life gets in the way. The monotony of day to day living often finds a way to overshadow the depth of our gratitude. The “To do lists, work and worry over our troubles clouds our best efforts to live a thankful life.
Life can only be fully understood through the complex prism of its contradictions. We can experience joy but we don’t really understand how important it is until we come face to face with pain. We require the juxtaposition of these things in order to better appreciate the value of each of them independently.
As much as loss feels like the absence of something, it is really the presence of it at its most basic level. Loss can feel overwhelming. The depth of our grief can feel insurmountable but this is actually what makes us who we are. If we did not grieve we would not understand the value of life. If we did not feel terrible sorrow from time to time we could not appreciate the delicate nature of love. It is our very sadness in loss that makes life and love so fragile in the first place. So, we need loss, grief, sorrow and even death in order to truly understand their parallels… recovery, joy, happiness and life.
If only I had known the depth of your pain, maybe I could have said something to ease it.
If only I had known about your dark despair, maybe I could have done something to bring you light.
If only I had known your self loathing was so oppressive, maybe I could have helped build you up.
If only I had known your heart was so splintered, maybe I could have helped to mend it.
If only I had known how broken you had become, maybe I could have put you back together.
If only I had known…
I recently lost a friend to suicide. While I would ultimately prefer to remember his life, the circumstances of his death weigh heavily on my mind and are burdensome to my heart because this was something that I truly never saw coming.
I can’t help but wonder if I ever really knew my friend at all. He must have been a fabulous actor because if he had been depressed, no one was the wiser. I can’t look back and think of a single thing now that makes anything about his sad tragic death make any sense at all.
We all fight some private battles, things we struggle with that we keep hidden from the rest of the world for various reason. I’d be foolish not to understand this but my friend’s death has left me with a very uneasy feeling that none of us can ever really truly understand another person’s journey. We are utterly and bitterly alone in that regard.
I cannot judge my friend’s actions because I do not understand them. Clearly, he walked a dark and disturbed path but he did so with a smile on his face. There was never a crack, never a grimace, never a misstep. For whatever reason, he was unable to make room for light in his life yet in his presence, I always felt lifted and loved. He gave too much until he was broken beyond repair.
I will get past the confusion of his death some day and I will remember him the way I want to remember him. I will remember his larger than life personality. I will remember his uninhibited laugh. I will remember his infectious smile and I will remember my friend’s charitable nature. I will remember how much more I enjoyed the world with him in it.
But I will also take to heart in an entirely new and profound way, that we all fight burdens of the unknown. I will take care in my relationships to make sure I pay closer attention to the needs of others even when they fail to ask for help. I will be more aware of what I don’t know and far more charitable about things I could not possible understand.
I will be respectful of the battles of the unknown and seek to bring them into the light whenever I am able.
Frail and weak, her white hair and small bones lost in the blankets of a hospital bed in her daughter’s living room, Mrs. Jones, lay there with a smile on her face. She is alert. She knows her own mind. She is aware of what is happening.
I am a college student. I’m also a home health aide, earning some extra money to help pay my way through school. It’s my job to come into this environment three days a week, for four hours, to give Mrs. Jone’s daughter a break. Whenever I come, she goes out for coffee with friends in a feeble attempt to maintain some sort of normalcy. I’m glad my presence gives her enough comfort to go and seek it. Watching your mother die is no easy task.
I help Mrs. Jones out of bed, bring her to the dining table in her wheelchair and make her breakfast. She picks up the fork and puts it down again. Mrs. Jones rarely bothers to nourish herself anymore. She asks to sit on the back deck. I wheel her out the door. Mrs. Jones holds her face to the sun and breaths deeply enjoying the warmth of a summer morning’s heat. She smiles again, knowing there probably won’t be too many more of these.
Soon, Mrs. Jones is tired. We go back inside and after I give her a bath and change her sheets, she is ready for a mid morning nap. I help her back into her hospital bed in the middle of the living room, there on display for all to see. She closes her eyes and begins to dream. I tidy the kitchen and put some laundry in the wash.
On this day, Mrs. Jones calls out for me. She tells me to sit on the edge of the bed. I do as she asks. She takes my hand and thanks me for helping her daughter take care of her. I’ve been coming here for 3 months now. I’ve grown very fond of the entire Jones family.
She tells me that I work too hard. I tell her not to worry about me. She says she wants to do something for me. I tell her she doesn’t need to. She begs to differ. She tells me to turn around. I do. She takes her 90 year old knotted and wrinkled hands and begins to rub my back. She wants to be of value. It is important to her. It is important to her to be connected to another human being. I let her rub my back. Soon she falls asleep. I quietly move to the chair by the bed and as I do, I look at Mrs. Jones. She is asleep but she is smiling again.
An hour later Mrs. Jones is gone. Smiling now from heaven. Her daughter has come home. The hospice nurse is here. Mrs. Jone’s died peacefully.
I’ve never forgotten that day over twenty five years ago and it’s not because someone died while I was taking care of them. It is because of the things Mrs. Jone’s taught me that day.
Mrs. Jones was dying. Mrs. Jones needed a lot of help. She couldn’t do much of anything on her own anymore. She was old and she was frail. But even in her weakened condition, Mrs. Jones wanted to be of value and use. She wanted to give back to those who helped her and loved her.
That day Mrs. Jones taught me that no matter our circumstances, we have something to offer. Even more importantly, she taught me something about kindness I have come to cherish. She taught me the importance of sometimes accepting the gifts of those we believe to be poorer or weaker than ourselves. She taught me how to be humble. She taught me the meaning of grace.
Assisted Living, Attitudes, Awakenings, Choices, Communication, Death, Eldery, Geriatric Care, Healthcare, Healthcare Administration, hope, Hospice, Joy, Lessons, life, Nurses, Nursing Homes, Old People, Patients, Senior Care, Social Work
In another life, I was a geriatric social worker, an executive director for assisted living and then as I excelled in my career, a hospice administrator. I have always had a fondness for the elderly. I have always been drawn to them. And, I have never been afraid of death. I see it as natural progression in the cycle of life. It’s one thing we all have in common and something we only get a single chance to do right. Providing quality hospice care is one way to help a patient and their family through that journey.
Before her own death, my mother used to say that I am an “old soul”. I don’t really know if this is true. The path I chose suited me and even though my career was incredibly stressful and sometimes sad, it was always interesting and surprisingly rewarding. I had the privilege to know many interesting people and I’d like to introduce you to one of them now.
His name was Harold.
Harold was a short, small framed, frail gentleman who came to live on the Alzheimer’s floor of the nursing home where I first started my career as a young social worker. He seemed so old to me. He was 90. I was 23. He was bald and boney. He couldn’t walk. He never spoke but he often smiled and looked unusually peaceful for an Alzheimer’s patient.
Harold didn’t have much family, only a nephew. He visited once a week and always made sure his uncle had nice clothing. Harold wore pressed, dry cleaned slacks with white button down shirts under brightly colored cotton cardigan sweaters. He was the best dressed resident of the Alzheimer’s floor. Maybe that’s why he was always smiling.
Harold was adorable. Even though staff aren’t supposed to have favorites, sometimes it can’t be helped. It happens and Harold was one of them. His easy nature made him a pleasure to care for. We all loved Harold but because he didn’t have much family and because he didn’t speak, we didn’t know that much about him. We wondered what, if anything, was going on in that shiny bald head.
It seemed Harold liked to be around other people. This was when he smiled the most. So, every day after getting him smartly dressed in his perfectly pressed pants, the nursing staff would place him in a recliner chair near the elevator so he could watch people come and go. Everyone who came onto the floor would greet him. “Hey Harold.” “Hi Harold.” “How are you today Harold?” “Looking good Harold.” And to each of these greetings, came a big, wordless, gleaming white, dentured smile.
Day after day, staff would sit and talk with Harold. They would talk to him about the news, the weather, the gossip of the day and Harold would tilt his head and simply smile. Since his arrival at the nursing home and for over a year, Harold sat quietly, smiled and said nothing.
On a routine day, staff scattered and hurried with daily chores, changing sheets, making beds, giving medications, patients aimlessly wandering the halls, “You Are My Sunshine” playing from the sun room for the few residents able to sit long enough to enjoy the music, Harold spoke.
Harold didn’t just speak exactly, Harold bellowed. Harold’s voice rang out. He shouted, “I believe in ice cream”. The staff all stopped in their tracks, looking about to figure out who’s unfamiliar voice they heard. Much to everyone’s surprise it was Harold. “I believe in ice cream.” “I believe in ice cream.”, “I believe in ice cream.”, “I believe in ice cream.” He joyfully called out over and over again. “I believe in ice cream.” “I believe in ice cream.” “I believe in ice cream.”
Anxious to please him several of the nursing staff ran to the kitchenette and pulled ice cream cups out of the freezer to bring to Harold. The nurse who got to him first, pulled up a chair and fed him chocolate ice cream from a shiny metal spoon.
Harold beamed, grinning ear to ear as melting chocolate dripped from his lips.
After that day, Harold enjoyed a lot ice cream. Day after day Harold sat neatly dressed near the elevator and greeted everyone with his beautiful bald head and endearing smile but he never uttered another word.
About a year after telling the world what he believed in, Harold died peacefully in his sleep with that trademark smile on his face and nursing staff all around him.
Twenty years later, I still think about Harold and when I do, I also think about how much better the world would be if we all believed in the simple sweet things in life.
Hard to describe
One of a kind
Not like any other
Not the cookie baking type
Not overly emotional or terribly affectionate
Mostly fun and always funny
Quick with a witty comeback
A woman of particular pride
Always looking good
Beautiful inside and out
Loyal to the core
An example to follow
Someone worth looking up to
Fiercely private – “Don’t talk outside of the family” (She might actually have hated my blog…hard to say)
Full of interesting advice – “What can you expect from a pig but a grunt.” or “Never kick a dead cat.”
Never judgmental but always opinionated
A rule follower at heart
My mother – Marianne
Deeply, deeply missed
June 1945- October 2005