Monday, June 25, 2012
Grief isn't a particularly familiar visitor in my life. Many times I've been told I was grieving the losses caused by my illness, or by my family situation, but rarely have I grieved for a true loss. I have grieved for many patients but patients, even the ones you are closest to, are supposed to be just a season of life. I carry many, many patients with me but I was a distant figure in their real lives. Death is not something I've dealt with much. My grandfather who abused me died when I was about 10, which is just too young to get it and my grandmother died when I was 18 and able to get it far too well. Yet in that case there was profound sadness and grief, but not in the way that I think grief typically occurs. There were so many circumstances. When I was 15 we were told to say goodbye because she'd live on 6 weeks or so. Grieving started then and stopped when 6 weeks passed and we clearly would have much more time. I spent so much time with her during the last 2 years she was alive that I really felt we'd said good-bye. And to finalize that the day before she died I walked into the nursing home room where she was sedated past the point of consciousness as she had been for several days since morphine became all that kept her comfortable. I said hi and she woke up. We maybe had 15 minutes to talk but she made it clear that she was aware she was going to a happy and lovely place soon and that she was not alone. A few minutes later, before I could say goodbye in the way I wanted to and did not know how to manage she was unconscious again. A nurse came in and found me crying and talked to me, agreeing that this was a sign it was about time. I went to my mom's school where she was on break and told her it would be within 24 hours. The call came at 6 the next morning and she died 2 hours later.
She made death hard to grieve. During those few amazing minutes she told me that she kept seeing many people who she'd known through her lifetime who were all dead, and each of them was very happy and encouraging her to come with them and essentially she was describing the most perfect, beautiful reunion possible. Then she asked me who was in the chair. I said "nobody Gram. Just a blanket. Maybe you're seeing it from a funny angle". Then she told me "no, there's a beautiful woman there and she is softly telling me to come join them". She described an angel. I know few deaths are so peaceful, but hers taught me not to fear it. The next morning when the call came she'd been rapidly declining since I'd left her room and they'd assigned an aide to hold her hand all night, then called when the end was near, which was her preference. My parents were already in town and got there about 6:15; my sister and I had to finishing dressing and drive in. I wound up driving quite fast. We got there around 7, the breathing pattern that often comes with death was explained, and we went in. I had said good-bye the day before, I simply gave her a kiss and whispered something that will make no sense without a backstory that I can't tell but that she needed to hear, and that I loved her. My sister said goodbye in her way. I wanted to stay but my sister was frantic about NOT wanting to stay and I knew that there'd be no good-byes better than the previous afternoon's. So we went to school where we both were at an honor roll breakfast when my father came to tell us she was gone, not even 45 minutes after we left. She died very, very soon after we left and had just waited for that last goodbye. I remember her visitation as a time of laughter and few tears, just as she wanted. The funeral was harder but seeing her not in pain and no longer afraid of the bleeding from her ovarian cancer made it easier. And my life helped with the rest of that loss. I had prom a week after she died, then a schoolwide blood donation day that got everyone out of class, then the last day of school, then graduation and a summer of 50-60 hour workweeks and then I went to college. There never was a time that loss hit over and over without warning.
The grief for my job and really myself is different. It strikes with no warning and demands tears that I don't even notice. Somehow in the last few weeks that grief is hitting more frequently. This time it took only a song that I didn't even notice was playing in the background of a webpage until I started trying to sort out why I had tears running down my face. I know this is a totally different kind of loss. This is partly sadness that I tried so hard and just couldn't make it in the typical life of someone in their mid-thirties. It is partly sadness that I lost who I was a year ago to whatever happened in surgery and that was so unexpected. It is partly the repeated reminders that as this current song says "things will never be the same". One of the things I want to find a way to do is to share as far and wide as possible why whooping cough vaccinations and boosters are so important. Whooping cough did not do all of this but I'm fairly sure without whooping cough this wouldn't have happened. Even that makes grieving harder. It feels like the last nearly 2 years have cost me everything. I just wish I had one more day that I knew was goodbye. I couldn't have stood that but saying goodbye would have been a good thing.
And now I've suddenly lost an hour to blogging and I need to do laundry since I have an appointment tomorrow with a substitute for Dr. Mind who is on vacation and I have no clean shirts to wear. So I need to get moving.
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