Today I saw a woman who is actively dying. When I entered her hospital room, she was alone, in bed, but seemingly awake. We exchanged a couple of words before she began breathing in a manner that is distinctive of the end of life. I began playing for her, attempting to match the rate of her breath, and hoping to play something soothing at that tempo. Her son came into the room soon thereafter, and he and I had a wonderful conversation about his mother. He told me that his mother had worked in a grocery store for a number of years, and that she accumulated a large group of shoppers who went to that store specifically to see her. She worked as a grocery-bagger, and her son said that the line of shoppers waiting to have their groceries bagged was consistently significantly longer than any other person’s. The grocery store where she worked rewarded gifts of pins to those workers who received excellent customer service acknowledgments, and that drawers full of these pins were found when the family was moving my patient to another home. This other home was her daughter’s, where she lived when she fell ill and had to be hospitalized for a short period of time. At the new home, the patient was also living with her 12-year-old granddaughter. According to the son, this past summer was very special for both his mother and his niece. They were able to spend months living in the same home. While working at the grocery store, my patient became accustomed to co-workers who were in their teens. Knowing popular culture and icons likely gave this woman a unique appeal to her granddaughter– not only was the granddaughter given the opportunity to spend a great deal of time sharing her living space with her grandmother, but her grandmother was actually in-the-know. My patient’s son said that his mother had been entirely lucid until Sunday, when the condition she has transitioned into something much worse. Now, she is unresponsive.
Speaking with my patient’s son was an enlightening experience. He seemed very grateful and appreciative of his mother, and of his relationship with the rest of his family. The way he described his mother’s life was joyous. He said that he is happy to know that she won’t suffer long.
The son of the patient I met today is likely experiencing loss and transition. Though not every person who suffers death of a loved one identifies the death as transition, what I find interesting is that each person who grieves a loss is never able to again live in the same reality as he or she was before the death. The grieving process is not a renewal, in regard to the idea that one will again live in the same way, or “get back to normal.” The renewal following the grieving comes in the ability to normalize the newness of the living circumstance. Life is a series of transition. Even, and probably especially, on a molecular level– we are constantly going through the breaking-down and the building-up of the fabric of our bodies. Quite simply, we exist in transition. We are experts at this process. We just have to acknowledge this fact and give credit where credit is due; we may be stronger than we think.
Thanks for reading.