Tuesday, July 17, 2018

It's Natural

I think I miss my father most when I wipe my ass. He was the only other human being I ever knew who would willingly and openly admit how hard it is to get it all. We would moan about this topic the way frustrated housewives bitch about muddy footprints. He came by this earthiness honestly. My paternal grandmother farted in front of me regularly, and when I got old enough to tell her to "say excuse me", she reprimanded me, saying that God put the air in and intended for it to come out - no apology necessary. I tried this at home. My mother was not nearly as accommodating of the almighty as GW was. "Hold it in" was her motto on most topics. It was never mine.

I've always been fascinated by and drawn to the functioning of the human body and the human mind. Interruptions aside, I probably would have been a doctor of something. But life wins in the end, and who we are isn't about the degrees we hold, it's about the cumulative experience, how we allow it to teach us, how we open ourselves up to and meet the act of living.

INELDA End of Life Doula training class is coming up, and in the initial pre-class work we are introduced to the idea of the End of Life Doula, the various activities an EOL doula may perform, the ways in which an EOL doula can facilitate conversations and communication between family members with the dying person. We were asked to think of the death of someone near to us and reflect on how that death was - what could have been different, what sort of conversations could and should have taken place, how the wishes of the dying person were accommodated. I think the biggest gap for me at Dad's end of life is in the idea of legacy. He wanted very much to talk about it, and we tried, but I lacked the language and the skills to give him an outlet for that. I regret this deeply. The instructor talks about having made an audio recording about 40 minutes in length where he asked his father things he had never dared or thought to ask before. It was some months before he could listen to this legacy journey, and when he did he found it immensely healing -it brought his father back to him in a real and powerful way. I wish I had done this. I have two or three short recordings, not conversations, but clips culled from my answering machine - my favorite being my final birthday message, left for me a mere 14 days before he died. It was that important to him - sleeping 18-20 hours a day, barely awake when he was awake, calling me to say happy birthday was a priority. I know that feeling - more intensely in the last couple of years when that greeting of a loved one has been thwarted by estrangement - but I digress.

This class will open up new pathways into the end of life experience for me. I have no idea where it will lead. I intend to become certified, which will require a minimum of three willing volunteer families who allow me into their space at an unbelievably delicate and precious time. Navigating the challenge of having clinical nursing skills that MUST BE set aside will be new. Being present, active listening, facilitating communication, holding space - all of those things are the things that I so very desperately long to do with my patients now, and most of the time cannot because time ties my hands behind my back and Medicare holds me hostage to an iPad. (The irony of this apparent skill is that if you are not dying, I will rattle on, ignore your thoughts and feelings, and generally be the biggest personality in the room wherever possible. But if you are dying or birthing it becomes the one space where I am easily able to lay myself down. I wish I knew why. Anyway.)  I look forward to that part of this work. I am looking forward to discovering new ways to give meaning to legacy, and hope I can be of value to someone who struggles with that. It will honor that man, who sat in that chair, pointed at me and said to his home hospice nurse "...she's goooood...." to which she replied "Yes, she is. She really needs to come work with us."

How very right they were. And how very hard I resisted. But in my life the times at which I have felt the most present, the times at which I have felt the most comfortable and connected, I was either attending a birth or attending someone and their support system at end of life. You can run, and you can run faster, but in the end you cannot hide. What I am, I am. And what I am is a death professional. Whatever form that takes.

(don't worry - soon we will talk about knitting or quilting or something, I promise!)