After the ridiculous amount of constant crisis in my life lately, I wasn’t sure if I was up to my shift at Zen Hospice today. But it turned out to be just the perfect thing to do.
I spent time with “S”, whom I’ve seen there for the last few weeks. She is a beautiful woman in her late 70s who appears to be little more than a small grouping of bones and skin but with lush hair and lovely eyes. We usually watch cooking shows together and talk about baking. And sometimes we talk about random subjects like the lives of pirates (she has some dementia – I actually do well with people who have dementia – I just roll along smoothly with whatever they’re talking about). She loves eating so I spend a lot of time going up and down the stairs to the kitchen and back to get her a piece of pie, or slices of cheese, or a bowl of soup, or a fig. I love watching her eat, she enjoys her food with great relish and gratitude. Today she told me that she wishes she could get well and go back to the way she used to be. She said she used to be athletic and that she lived in the mountains. One of her favorite things to do was to run in the early mornings in the clear mountain air, happily alone in nature. I love imagining her that way.
I also spent hours today with a woman who said she is going to die tonight. She was in a great deal of pain and was reduced to just emaciated limbs and a big swollen belly (“a touch of cancer” she said, and also joked that she was pregnant with twins). We spoke of the full range of life, of the pain and the beauty, of watching our children suffer, of husbands who cheat, of art and music, of love for family, of the joys of sugar, of the soft light in the room. We expressed gratitude for it all, including for our hands and for brownies. And we wished that all children everywhere be well-fed. We repeated phrases over and over again, like prayers or magic spells. She said she was ready to go. I fed her cheesecake with my (gloved) fingers and helped the nurse’s aide change her diapers. The gratitude was flowing in every direction from all of us, filling the room.
This work feels so natural to me. I still feel connected to these women, and I do not know if they will be there next week when I return, or last through the night tonight. I am loving being there with these lovely people as they near the ends of their lives; it’s the right place for me to be.