Up for Air

How can one week feel so interminably long, yet at the same time pass in a mere heartbeat?  The world has continued to turn at its normal pace, while I feel stranded in the midst of a foreign and dangerous land, virtually drowning in a sea of emotions and impressions.  Will there ever be time to process all that has happened in my life during this week?

The facts:  On Monday, after determining that the only remedy for my aunt’s condition would be a major surgical procedure from which she would likely never recover, the decision was made to place her in hospice care.   The hospital has its own hospice unit, and on Monday afternoon she was wheeled directly into a spacious private room.   She has her pillows and favorite quilt from home, those intrusive tubes and IV’s have been removed,  and she has been resting fairly comfortably since then.

Of course, those bare facts don’t begin to scratch the surface of  the myriad  emotions which have pulled at me like the fiercest undertow.  The leaden resignation as I sign my name to DNR orders and hospice admittance papers.   The searing pain of walking into her home, her refuge from the world for the last 56 years, and knowing she’ll never return.  The anger at a medical bureaucracy which saps the little strength I have left.  The frustration with other people who demonstrate such lack of awareness regarding the needs of the dying.  The weighty responsibility of managing her estate which is about to fall entirely on my tiny shoulders.

But most of all, of course, is the sadness, the sense of loss which has become so familiar to me in recent years as my elders have disappeared from my life one by one.  I feel like an infantryman watching his front line of defense mowed down before him, forced to continue marching onward into danger without their protection, guidance, or love. 

It is the love that I will miss the most, and in these past few days, I’ve realized just how much my aunt loved me.  It’s hard to lose those people in the world who still see you as a perfect, shining star, with all the possibility you had as a child still dwelling within you.  

She has been completely lucid during all of this, and I’ve been visiting her early in the morning before any of her other friends and family come around.  I’ve had to ask some hard questions, things we didn’t quite get around to taking care of this summer as we handled all the business related to my uncle’s death. 

“I’m worried about you,” she told me the other morning, her voice barely a whisper.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” I answered, trying hard to swallow the tears. 

“Well, I am,” she insisted, in the soft southern drawl which seems to have become more pronounced since her illness. “Don’t you cry for me.  You know this is what I wanted.”

Yesterday afternoon the hospice nurse told us she had moved into the phase known as “actively dying.”  I didn’t need a nurse to tell me that, for I’ve become more familiar with the look of this process than I ever expected I would.  We can’t rouse her anymore, and her inveterate talkativeness (which I admit could occasionally grate my last nerve) is now silenced for good. 

So I came home in the middle of the day for the first time in a week, hungry for a respite of normalcy.  I did some laundry and hung it on the line, letting the fresh autumn breeze whip it clean and free of wrinkles.  I sat on the porch and listened to the gentle chords of my wind chimes.  I took a walk with my dogs. 

Like a swimmer coming to the surface, I gulped in the sweet, fresh air, and tried to breathe.


11 thoughts on “Up for Air

  1. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. I read this with so many emotions – a wonder that you’ve had such love and support from the older members of your family, and a deep sadness for you that those people are leaving. You’re a brave woman facing hard things. I hope you’ll be good to yourself and will ask for exactly what you need to get through this.

  2. Becca,

    I know words cannot take away the pain and loss that you are feeling. You are in my heart and prayers as is your aunt. I hope the transition will be painfree for her and that you will take time for your own recovery afterwards.

  3. Oh, wow. I’m so sorry, Becca! I realized it’s been so long since I stopped by to visit and I was wondering how you’re doing. I’m glad I followed my heart and thoughts and came by. I know how you feel. I’ve lost so many in my family–including 3 young ones this year (ages 32, 36, and 28). It’s even worse when they die young, I think. I’ve lost some precious older ones, too, but they’d lived long, active lives. These young ones were only just beginning.

    Stay strong, Becca. Keep writing. It’s so very healing and helpful. You’re in my heart and prayers–and so is your aunt!!!

    Hugs & blessings,

  4. As I read this I couldn’t help but remember my mother’s dying process…she had talked to me in much the same way prior to going into “actively dying”. Even then, she once woke from her state to comfort me…and in the end…when I said my good-byes to her, she must have heard because she died in the middle of that night. My thoughts and prayers are with you Becca…

  5. I’s almost 7 p.m., and I’m sittting at my office computer, tears making it nearly impossible to see the screen only a foot or two ahead of me. In one way, I grieve so for you, with you, in this post. It is profoundly beautiful in its sadness, its eloquence and its depth of feeling. And there is a good deal of empathy in that feeling. For when you wrote this: It is the love that I will miss the most, and in these past few days, I’ve realized just how much my aunt loved me. It’s hard to lose those people in the world who still see you as a perfect, shining star, with all the possibility you had as a child still dwelling within you. ” … well, it could have been just what has been rushing through my head for the past few weeks in respect to my dad’s death and his birthday this week. (I’ve pre-posted on Chopsticks something that will come on October 2.) I am glad you found a spot to breathe, draw in the air, be with your dogs. And know — this gloomy, rainy day, that it is raining just as much in your heart.

  6. “I feel like an infantryman watching his front line of defense mowed down before him…”

    Even in your grief you offer us beauty and strength in your words. You always express my thoughts and emotions, even reveal them to me when I’m not aware. I am with you in spirit. May peace follow this most difficult time.

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