Saturday, October 27, 2018

Precious Days

There are people who live in the halls of suffering. We frequent the collection points for the worst bits of what living the human experience can mean - sickness, disease, and death. These things used to be a normal part of life, but since they’ve been concentrated in hospitals and facilities, the human delusion of endless days faces less competition.

I don’t mind facing these things for you. But, with that burden I want to share what I’ve learned.

You don’t live forever. Your loves don’t either. Your days are precious. The skin of your person is precious. The bones of your children are precious. The magic of imagination and travel and laughter and self-indulgence and self-sacrificing is precious. 

We all instinctively know that things in limited supply are valuable. Treat your days and your people the same way. Get all messy living and loving and learning. Take risks. Apologize with your whole heart. Forgive with your whole heart. Take pride in your work. Just saturate in humility about your size in the universe. And LOVE. LOVE LOVE LOVE. With courage, pour your soul and best self into someone. When the fancy flights of feelings and romance wear off, grab their hand, feel their skin, listen to their heart, hear their breath, and revel in the marvel of them.

You, YOU, are precious. When the end of you comes, I hope all this loving surrounds you with people who know that. Who know you. Who stand over your suffering, and with strength fight for your dignity and memory and peace. 

Know that I will be there, no matter how this all worked out.

May grace cover every step of this tricky life we pass through. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

tiny hand

I’m so spent. I turned on the tv after work and pulled my girls onto my lap. It’s the height of what parenting I can give right now. Lulu’s little hand slid across me into Valentine’s. Valentine looked at me with a huge grin and big eyes - surprised with the trust of her little sister. We sat so for the longest measurable unit of toddler time - minutes.
The chemistry of grief and love and hope washed through my brain. This brew is complicated and true.
What parent hasn’t considered unfathomable loss, even if only for the briefest moments, this week. It feels so much better to give opinions, to engage the emotions of power than love in fear and empathy.
My self defense mechanisms want to engage in politics and power and opinions and battles. Draw lines, wound those who disagree with my version of what’s best. It’s literally, chemically addictive.
Let’s not. Let’s slide a hopeful hand to a comforting love, and spread comfort. What I mean is, I don’t want to live on the inside of my wounds and miss reaching out for comfort, casting out comfort, sitting in complexity, stumbling through complexity.
I want to learn from my littles and my betters and my elders and my ghosts and ancestors. I want to mourn. I want to hope.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Clang Clang

I love you. The whole of you. The skin, in its variations. The heart, in its generosity. The body, in its elastic variability. The spirit, in its multiplicity of faiths. The heritage, in its global possibilities. The you who gives love and receives love. The gendered you. The unhindered you. Whatever part of you others use to justify leaving you in the margins, or calling for your disappearance, well, I love that too.

If I have big(ly) ideas, or talk plenty, or create loud movements

-but don't have love-

I'm just causing more noise. Just disrupting the air and the peace. Just rending and tearing and adding violence.

I love even you - the one who can't love me back. With your fear, and disorientation, marching toward me and my rainbow of human siblings in anger - I'll love into any crack in that armor I can find. I'll stand beside and before my siblings, hating the ugliness and violence of your ideology, but loving the terribly frightened you encased in lies, myths, terror(ism).

(Originally written in response to the white supremacy marches in Aug 2017.)

Monday, September 18, 2017

For a Living

It's hard for me to make sense of what I do "for a living." Those quotation marks denote sarcasm, in this case. I went to university for greater than four years to learn a set of skills and knowledge that would prepare me to blur the boundaries between your life and mine for 12 hours out of the day.

Sometimes I see the bad news before you do, and I let myself go cry in the bathroom so you can have a solid presence when you learn it yourself. I hold your hand. I hold your spouse. I hold your family in my heart for the rest of my days.
I let you lie to me, over and over again, so I can keep you in the hospital long enough to heal your sickness - knowing full well your addictions will swallow you whole when you leave the safe space I'm desperately carving out for you.

Sometimes, I have to let you leave, when it's not time. I have to let you be the grown up in your own life, even though I know that grown up is headed toward an unnecessary death. I tell you I honor your choice, even as I screw up the courage to confront you with the reality of what it means for you.

I'm funny for the you in this room, because that's what makes you feel loved and safe and seen. I'm somber with the you in this room for the same exact reasons. I give a little of me to every single one of you, and your presence and person smudge all over me - changing me forever.

While all this lovely emotional work is happening, I'm using my sharp mind, skilled hands, and years of experience to tend to your body. I'm recognizing when your respirations dip toward death, and giving you medication to pull you back from that brink. Or, I'm noticing when your body is no longer tolerating what we do to keep it living, and teaching your family how to love you in the letting go. I'm watching your vital signs for subtle shifts that will be missed by your physicians (remember, I think about you and know you for hours and days at a time) to recognize when you're sliding toward deathly illness, and put a stop to it.

And, I'm really, really proud, and really, really tired to be this Registered Nurse. Because, all this was yesterday, or days ago, or years ago, and I'm still wearing you. I'm still loving you. I'm still grateful that, even for the abusers and liars, and of course for the helpers and growers, the world got you in it. That for a time, I got to reach deep into your life, and regardless of how you lived it outside the walls of the hospital, I loved you. I honored you, your body, your person.

This is a "living" in a much deeper sense of the word. It's my chosen mode of living - my ethics, my faith, my heartbreak, my hope.
#registerednurse #nursing #healthcare

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

It turns out your shenanigans and missteps and oopsies may be an important part of what people love about you, when things are said and done, and you inch your way through your last breaths.

Your grandkids may take your nurse in the hall to laugh/cry their way through stories of drinking beer with you when they were way too young for such things, and sneaking you to the VFW for a little R&R.

It may be that you won your nurse over in the first place by telling her, "I don't give a shit." She gotta respect that, right?

So when your body settles in, and settles down, all your good decisions for building relationships are, of course, important. AND, all your capacity to be human, to mess up, to make a riot, to sow some wild oats -- these things will be present in the room too.

If you, like me, worry the bones of every mistake, and agonize about the misspoken word or deed: STOP IT. Do your best. Love big and messy. Win hearts. Make sure the people you make your biggest mistakes with know they were also your biggest joy.

Cheers to you, you pain-in-the-ass. You made a few days of my life colorful. No idea what the privilege of growing up with you could do, but judging from the stalwart guard of family surrounding you -- something very good indeed.

I wish you good rest. Good peace. A good end.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Matters (when you can't take care of you)

Some of us will make it within spitting distance of 100. Most of us will some day depend on other bodies to care for our body. I have the privilege of providing that care right now, and observing what matters in these years. For instance: 

You taught your children self-sufficiency. You gave them full awareness of their own personhood. When it is time for someone to represent the voice you no longer have, they aren’t still striving to maintain a falsehood of needing you with them. With great loss, and tremendous courage, they advocate on behalf of your body and soul.

You built love with a partner based in truth, compassion, and passion. It helps if you laughed a lot, because when this partner has to face tending to your most undignified needs, you’ll want them to get you so tickled you toot in the bathtub. And, this partner knows you too well to cling to a shell of you.

You opened borders and created community. A walled off life is a secluded one, in health and sickness. The crowd at your bedside get smaller as the years go by, unless you created a legacy that parents shared with their children, and that got soaked up by grands and great grands of the genetic, adopted or spiritual varieties. A little diversity here is extra special.

You let others sit with you in your suffering. You let them see a few warts. They grew to admire your courage and generosity all the more because of them, and won’t be afraid to face the diminished you.

You took terrifying leaps of fun and adventure. You drift away from full physical strength, and toward death with a heap of memories; and no regrets about forgetting to stray from the American dream, and the Protestant work ethic in favor of a day at the park, or a journey abroad, or deeps acts of charity.

You tended to your body. At this point, how little or much your thighs jiggled in youth won't matter. This isn’t about bringing sexy back. Rather, about priming your body for the years when other bodies bear the burden of moving you, and supporting you. You’ll live longer, and enjoy the waning years more with moderate attention to tune ups.

Modern medicine gives us so many extra years, but we forgot to prepare along the way for what comes at the end. The grace, courage, and love you infuse into your world now, will follow you all the days of your life.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"I want to go home. It's so very cold here."

Yesterday, a patient, shaking, naked, and bereft of the control over his body that he's had since toddler years told me, "I want to be normal. I want to be me again. I want to go home. It's so very cold here." The extent of conversation he'd had to that point was caregivers instructing him to get back in his bed, because he's too weak to be up. We are right.

And wrong.

Right to recognize the limitation of his body, when his mind can't. Wrong to not explore the capacity of his mind and body. Wrong to not fight for a more humane approach to his health, lack of health, and inevitable death.

Last week, in a similar situation, I asked an oncologist why we weren't having a conversation with the family about hospice. He replied, "I'm not ready to write him off yet." In fairness, this is a very compassionate doctor. I looked him in the eye and said, "I'm not writing him off either. I'm facing all the potential directions his illness can go, and wanting to keep an open mind to all the possibilities for how we treat him. He will die. How will we treat him until he does?" An hour later, the family came to me in tears - adjusting to the conversation the physician decided to have with them, and determined to bring meaning and comfort to whatever days they had with their dear one.

We stand over our patients, literally and figuratively. We address them with the same tone we do our children. Dismissive. Concerned. Coaxing them back into clothes, into bed, into the masks and tubes and lines they "need" to maintain the numbers we want to see from them. We neglect to find the strength in their weaknesses.

I crouched below this fellow human, and told him, "you're so very sick. And, you're in the hospital. Please tell me what you want." He looked into my eyes, and expressed the thoughts above. He talked to me of his "most wonderful wife."
When I swung into his room, just ten minutes before, trying to catch him from falling, and simultaneously direct his body back into the bed, he struck out with his hands and arms. Disoriented. Disrupted.

There's something here, on a grand scale about how we treat all humans. How we let every person maximize what they have. How we sit in silence, waiting for someone to reveal their pain, their wants, their needs.

There's also something very direct here. Talk to your loves. Learn what they want in the waning years. Tell them what makes life so livable and meaningful for you.

As for me: don't chase the numbers. Keep me close to the lives that bring me purpose and joy. Love me with presence, not interventions. And, listen to me. Ask me questions, and wait long enough for a disorganized mind to gather a response. That's living, now, and always, for me.