We are all shaped by our experiences—what is inflicted upon us, opportunities we are given, and the things we choose for ourselves. There is choice, and there are also elements variously called “luck,” “fate,” “divine providence,” and “coincidence.” My friend Aggie once told me that she had heard a saying: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” At the time she told it to me, my own mother had just been diagnosed with the stomach cancer that would take her life within a matter of months.
Google tells me that Albert Einstein was the author of that quotation. I find it humbling that a genius of such magnitude found space among his calculations for God.
But coincidence does play a role in our lives. So does fate. So why are some destined to die of cancer? Or Alzheimer’s? Or a car accident?
When my mother was ill, Hospice helped to care for her in her final days. I was so impressed by the organization that I signed up for volunteer training at my local non-profit Hospice. I never would have signed up before my mother was diagnosed. But my experience with my mother’s cancer shaped me. I became a volunteer, going to patient’s homes to sit with them so that their caregivers could have a few hours respite.
Being inserted into a household where someone is dying is delicate, and requires equal parts sympathy (or empathy) and detachment. I know that detachment sounds like coldness or distance, but it’s not the same thing at all. In being detached, I can get done what needs doing, and allow the caregiver to take care of his or her own needs, if only for a few hours each week.
After three years, I requested that I not be paired with any more patients. I needed some distance. I found I was becoming more than detached. I was becoming cold because I needed to separate myself from the need and pain and grief I saw. Now I work in the supply room at the Hospice office. I fill orders for nurses, filling shopping bags with products with ambiguously optimistic names like Skil-Care, Med-Pride, and Primaguard. Anything manufactured by a company called Caring, must, to some perhaps subconscious degree, provide a modicum of comfort.
My job is to open boxes and stock shelves. The convoluted pads go next to the Dawn Mist lotion soap. Must remember the terminology: adult diapers are “briefs”, absorbent bed pads are “chux,” for no reason that is apparent to me, although the box calls them “Wings.”
As if someone could fly away from their deathbed on a green absorbent pad. Facial tissues, which, personally, I always call “Kleenex” are called “Envision.” And a paper towel? Not a paper towel, but a “Preference” towel. Pull-ups are still pull-ups but are available only for those below the poverty level, who might not have indoor plumbing. When were are caring for someone at the end of life, we need all of the confidence available. If it comes in the form of a gauze pad or alcohol swab, who cares?
The nurses and aids phone in lists of supplies they need. End of life, they call it. Because it can take a while. Death is an instant. End of life can be the final days or months of a terminal illness. My work at hospice is but a drop in the bucket. These brave, dedicated nurses and volunteers look death in the face every day, and say, “You may win this one, but I’m here to ease the journey.” Their patients won’t get better. These patients won’t go home with balloons and wilting flowers. But the nurses keep helping.
Has my writing been influenced by my own experiences? Of course it has. Our imaginations are fed by experiences, whether they be the result of choice or fate or providence.
To read the story, click here: Mrs. Walker