“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” –Mary Jean Iron
This morning at 3:30 a.m. the caregiver wakened me – standing by my bed, softly calling my name. Immediately awake but a bit befuddled I followed her downstairs. My heart raced from the adrenaline rush as I listened to my nephew’s breathing, fast and shallow.
Decisions rested on me for that moment. Who to tell… When to wake the others…
Thank God, once again, for Hospice. After talking to the nurse, following her instructions and waiting for results I sent the caregiver home. Why should two of us be vigilant in the wee hours?
By 5:30 a.m. I talked to the nurse again. “I think this is the new norm, do you agree?”
How could what is normal in our lives have changed so drastically in less than two months?
Well, it didn’t happen all at once. After all, we don’t plan for a new normal. It slinks in – changing life as we move moment-by-moment through our hours and days. It catches us unaware. We look up in surprise at what seems surreal, or gasp in disbelief at it all..
There is a hospital bed in the corner of the living room. It has been there for a week and we have learned to speak in hushed tones and to listen for changes in breathing. We have done it without thought.
Ten days ago we talked to him and expected a response. He was verbal about what he wanted and didn’t want. Five days ago he squeezed my hand when I held it. Today we continued to speak to him of love and joy. We knew he could hear if he was awake but his awake was not visibly different from asleep.
We had transitioned into our new life. We cooked. We ate. We sat in quiet conversation. A few nights ago we shared some family memories, breaking our code of quiet as we howled with laughter and looked often to his bed as if he might be joining us in the hilarity.
We have been busy here – holding our good thoughts and setting aside our sadness as we wished my nephew well on his journey. We touched and caressed him, speaking of love and encouragement, and then stepped away to hold each other in comfort.
Because always there was the intermittent gut-punch when it broke from surreal into heart twisting. When we slid from over-functioning into the present and lived with reality. Visiting loved ones said “goodbye: instead of “goodnight”. And there were flights to catch, jobs to resume, responsibilities to shoulder. Thus, somberly, we acknowledged that the necessary leave taking of sons and daughters to distant places was their last.
And now even that precious time of strange normalcy is past. Where there was breath there is silence. We sit, stunned.
We are yearning for the old normal when we could hear his voice, look into his eyes, and feel his touch. When we didn’t have to imagine his laughter. Because not having him on this earth will never feel normal.