TODAY’S LESSON FROM HOSPICE

Small musings with big implications.

So where was I the last month or so? Well, rest assured I wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere.

December was a wonderfully busy time, full of small craft shows, big sales, and lots of entertaining at our house. We attempted to have everyone we’d ever thought about having over, over. It was mostly successful, which meant back-to-back dinners, parties, multiple Yankee Swaps, etc. We missed a few important folks, but made a final sweep and got most of them over, too.

In early January, I was called in for a vigil, to sit by the side of a person who had perhaps days to live. The person had requested company, and I was one of the team of volunteers who sat with her for several hours each day.

The days stretched into weeks. She was waiting for something, it turns out. The strength of the human spirit astonishes me once more. More about that phenomenon another time.

The point of today’s musings is something I thought of a lot during those precious weeks:

Some things cannot be cured.
But they

    can

be healed.

In our modern Western culture, we sometimes confuse the meaning of those two words. Yet they are the very core of hospice work.

At first glance, it is about the medical care. We cannot cure what is killing you, says hospice. But with palliative care, with understanding and support, we can ease the pain, soothe the soul and be there for you. You don’t have to fight. You can simply….be. Whatever that looks like for you.

The care is so profound, sometimes people rally wonderfully. They gain a few days, a few weeks. Their passing is eased.

Because the care is healing.

It is a theme very much in my thoughts these days, one of the gifts of hospice.

We tend to think of things in black-or-white, right-or-wrong, fixed-or-broken. It’s a natural brain state, this polarization of thoughts, concepts, perception.

I myself tend to be extremely judgmental, a tendency that has caused me much grief in my life.

But as I get older and accrue some wisdom, I find myself more fascinated by the gray areas.

Someone can wrong me terribly. Yet I can see now their actions really have everything to do with who they are, and nothing to do with me.

Doesn’t mean I love ’em, though. I’m not a candidate for sainthood yet. I can work on the forgiving part. Forgetting is harder. (Probably something to do with self-preservation, would be my guess.)

I can love someone, yet understand their shortcomings. I can ask this thing of them, but not that thing. Don’t ask something that’s made to carry bread, to carry water.

I can see that the things that annoy me hugely in other people, are things I do myself. And I can see that the things I hate about myself, my weaknesses, are sometimes my strengths.

As hard as it is for me to forgive others, I see it’s even harder to forgive myself.

And so even as we mindlessly scurry about to get that assignment done, to run our errands, to win that argument, to fuss about our stuff, we can suddenly run right smack up into the face of death. Either in someone close to us. Or a perfect stranger. Or ourselves.

What’s important, when we find the bottom dropped out of our oh-so-ordinary lives?

I’m seeing that it’s not our accomplishments (though they have their place in the world.) It’s not our fancy homes and cars and vacations.

It’s who we loved, and how we loved. And that we loved. It’s who loved us, and who we wish had loved us.

We can never even know where our acts of love finally traveled. We launch a little paper boat in a swiftly turning river, and have to trust that it eventually traveled far enough to do somebody some good.

That….is faith. Doing the loving thing even when you can’t be sure it did a damn bit of good.

Because in the end, it is the work of our heart that stays with us, until finally, there isn’t even that. Just us, taking that last step alone. Because that’s how it works.

Yes, there are family feuds. We’ve all got ’em. There are wrongs that were never righted. We’ve all seen the wars that never ended because of that. There are misunderstandings that were never sorted out. There was potential that was never used, and strengths that were never honored. As the old prayer goes, there are things we have left undone, and there are things we ought not to have done.

In the end, there is simply someone sitting as the light wanes, holding your hand. No words. Just being there.

Such things things in life cannot be fixed. They cannot be cured.

But they can be healed.

P.S. Just so you know I’m really NOT a saint or an angel, let me just say there are still a few people I’d really like to smack, okay?