Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Until Death Do Us Part

One of the old ladies died this week.  She has been in our home since I began there over six years ago.  What a odd situation - this death!  Her family had not been in to see her for more than five minutes in at least six years.  Her son worked in the building at times, and another worker would try to get him to see his mom, but all he would say is, "she doesn't know me anymore" and not go.  Not even pop his head in the room.

Then she was dying, and the whole tribe appeared.  Whispering in her ear, 'we love you so much!  We're here with you."  Yeah... fat lot of good it does her now when she is unconscious!  Where were you for six years when she would make eye contact and smile and try to talk?!  But we have to be nice - even to the family.  So we tried.  We sponged her down as she sweated and suffered those last few hours.  Halfway through that, the nurse checked her blood sugars and a young boy - likely a great grandson? - said, "Oh, so is she getting better?  Grandma, you're going to get better, hang in there!"  The nurse turned to the family in shock - they haven't told this boy (maybe 11 years old) that grandma is dying?!  She lost it then and looked at the boy and said as gently as she could, "Grandma is not going to get better.  Grandma is dying, and Grandma needs to die - it is the best thing for her now because Grandma has been suffering for a very, very long time, and now she is ready to die."  The boy left in tears, and then came back ten minutes later.... but still, better to tell him than to have him face death and absolute shock, too!

But then when she died, she took her last breath and breathed it out.  The nurse was there.  Then before she quit, one large tear rolled out of her right eye and trickled down her cheek, and she took a half breath and quit.  The nurse said she looked so sad dying.  The family reacted with that odd grief that is borne more of guilt than of the ache of missing someone.  How could they cry for missing her? They hadn't seen her in at least six years!  But guilt brings on a difficult grief and one we struggle to comfort.  How do we comfort when there is reason for the guilt and we will not say "oh, it was ok to abandon her".  We never abandoned their mom - not even when she choked and we had to hold her while she coughed and sputtered all over our uniforms, not even when she threw up for the third time that night, not once.  We can only assure the family that it was her time to go.  We can not assure them that she knew they loved her and that they had cared for her well.  We had no relationship built with them on the basis of shared caring and evenings sitting by the bedside sharing stories of their lives.  The family looked in the cupboard and wondered, "Where did she get these clothes from?  We don't know these ones."  How do you say kindly that they were donated by staff because her clothes wore out sometime in those over six years they stopped seeing her?  How do you say that we staff shopped for her like she was our family because they did not?  The nurse handled it the best she could and told them they were donated to which they replied, "Oh, how sweet!".

Then they leave, and we grieve together.  Not so much for this lady's death as the loneliness of her last years.  We loved her.  We loved her.  Even well unto close to the end, she would look at us and smile and say, "Thank-you".  Only a few weeks ago while I was in the room, her eyes caught sight of me and I heard a distinct "How are you?"  I went quickly over, looked her in her eyes, smiled, watched her responding smile, and said, "Hi sweetie!  I'm fine!  So nice to see you.  You have beautiful eyes, you know!  It is snowing outside again and the wind is blowing cold.  Sleep well, sweetie, we love you!"  And her eyes smiled back at me, always bright, always smiling when she caught sight of a person.

If only her family could have realized how much they missed....

This weekend, we move on.  A new patient will be there.  A new one to love and care for .... like they say in a wedding - "until death do us part".  Odd use for that phrase, but it is very accurate for our home.  We promise to love and care for each one until death comes.  That is what I think when I meet each new person.

I counted recently, and I have seen around 100 people come and go.  100 deaths.  It is both a privilege and a deep sadness.  This last weekend was a low for me, though.  It adds up - this constant watching dying.

But I go back... to chose to love the person who comes to occupy the empty bed.  To chose to love, once again, until death do us part.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nagging Complaints

There are some thing we find difficult to deal with.  We are getting used to the long trips.  It seems that we will not ever go back "over there", but be here indefinitely.  What an odd concept to my brain - having grown up as a gypsy!  But here we are.  It nice here, really.  Our kids are settled and developing friendships that last years - something I never had as a child.

But it means that a few times a year, my husband will be gone for about a month.  I get used to these trips, I guess.  It is easier now with older kids who do not need so much supervision and assistance.  I get lonely, but reaching out to others and asking to drop by are things I can work on.  Coming home is always a struggle - fitting back into being a two parent family after being a single parent... it takes adjustment.  Thankfully, in the early years of our marriage, we lived near an army base and were friends with many military families.  We learned a lot from these families - lessons we value today.  Some of those were about how to handle absences and then the reunions.  It is still a struggle, but at least we know to expect it.

What is hard for us is other people's assumptions.  When I was gone for a three week trip, those three weeks were busy.  There was no weekend off, there were no evenings free.  It was a full out busy time.  I arrived home to stuff piled up for me and people asking, "So how was your vacation?"

My husband arrived home after four and a half weeks of hard work, and we had scheduled a family vacation.  We had planned this vacation last year, but it had to be canceled after the "adventure" of last year.  This year, we were determined to do it.  He had been gone over four weekends, so that was eight extra days of work if you look how many days he would have been at the office if he had been here.  You'd think there would be a policy to give those days back to him.  Eight days of vacation are not exactly vacation days, but "given back days". 

You'd think.

And he even took one morning of the vacation to deal with some office work, phoning in to talk and plan with some people.  But, no.  Before we even got home, we had piles of e-mails lined up.  "You haven't done this."  "This has been here so long and not done." "What has been happening - nothing is right."  "How come you haven't answered that?"

All the various writers of these letters know why.  Because he was gone, and then he was on vacation.  No one will die if he is gone for a week.  Did they honestly expect him to stay up late on our holiday to open his computer and deal with mundane office work?!

All that nagging... it makes us want to quit.  To look elsewhere for something to do.  There have to be days that people understand that he was gone four and a half weeks, and then we need some family time... which should be uninterrupted by nagging coworkers.

We're growing frustrated with this stuff.  We feel that we as a family can figure out and work through the adjustments of a few long trips a year, but that the team we work with also needs to adjust their way of thinking.  We've tried to fight for "family days" given as compensation for long trips.... but they need to understand that a family day does not mean that we should be sent four to five nagging e-mails each day.

We need wisdom in how to deal with this.  The same problems as last year - different offenders, same problems.  I think the only reason the main offender of last year did not reoffend is that I strongly warned him that we were on vacation spending time with just our family and would get back to him on such and such a date.  Maybe we need to be so clear with the others.  It is tiring.  My husband's first week back, and it is daily complaints about what he has not done.  We're back to crawling in bed as soon as the kids go to bed, emotionally exhausted.  It's tiring.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jewels Wrapped in Scotch Tape

This morning, while cleaning the kid's desk, I found a piece of paper all folded up and scotch taped together.  The interesting thing was that it had our address on the outside.  I opened it up to find another piece of paper inside.

#3 had written a letter to Santa.  Why it was behind the desk, I do not know, but I remember him all excited by hearing you could write Santa and the post office in the US would deliver it.  This is the letter:

Dear, Santa

How are you feeling?  You represent Jesus giving gifts, though Jesus gave one big gift, That saves us.  How's Rudolf?  I would like a screwdriver set by the way  can you say Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas!
sincerly #3            
It is cheerily decorated with a picture of Santa flying through the skies on the top and a manger scene on the bottom with a large face next to the manager scene and a speech bubble coming out saying, "Thank-you"  A large gift in the top right corner holds his return address.

This one is going in the scrapbook!  I don't think Santa would appreciate it as much as I do.... although I am tempted to send it next year anyway!  (Or a photocopy of it)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Perhaps Now?

Do you ever feel like quitting?  Just giving up and walking way? 

I've sort of felt that way for awhile.  Work is going pretty great - just not what I do.  I have really only one job.  I do a lot of other things, but those are just filling holes.  If something is needed, and I can do it, I do.  But I have one project that is "mine".  I am responsible for it.

I worked hard for two years on this.  I took what was given to us that did not work for our country and worked to make it appropriate.  It was designed for women, and I was excited about it.  I poured my heart into it for two years and got it ready to begin. 

That was when the problems started.  It was handed over to a man who was supposed to coordinate getting it done.  We were ready to go with it.

He did not like it.

There was no real reason.  He just didn't like it, and he dragged his feet.  No one was willing to force him and he was not willing to change his mind. 

All my work sat.  For two years.  I was discouraged.  Began questioning everything I did.  Was there any point?  Maybe I just didn't know how to do anything?  Maybe I should set down the burden on my heart and stick to teaching little kids to read and making meals.

I just quit.  There was no point working more on this project, even though people were asking me to for other countries.  My heart was just sad.

But this year brought new hope.  The work has been given to someone else - completely out of the influence of the first man.  I did not hold my breath, but I did go over the plans again and wrote a new instruction letter.

Today came back the comments from this man and his wife.  They like it, and are working with it.  I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but a quiet hope is growing.  Perhaps this will start up again. Perhaps now?