This poem is dedicated to all the palliative nurses I worked with in Chilliwack who can all say they’ve been through this situation before. Also to the families as they watch their loved ones die. I hope the transition was somewhat eased as one of us experienced these moments with you.
“I can smell the death on the sheets covering me. This is the end…” Relient K
‘How much longer does she have?’
How do I begin to answer the question you couldn’t bear to ask?
I’ve lost track how many countless times I’ve been asked this question.
Sometimes I feel like the grim reaper, or rather the bearer of such devastating news.
In the end I say it could be minutes, hours, even days or weeks.
The longer the dying process the heavier the load is on your shoulders.
You spend all your waking hours, tired eyes slumped shoulders, weary spirit
being with the one you love, you did love or that you never loved at all.
Maybe you feel guilty for never being there all those years and
being with her right now is your salvation.
Perhaps you selfishly want her to be in this dying/alive state as you process how saying goodbye is going to be.
I give the last shot of her Morphine, reposition her emaciated, sunken, skeleton-like body in bed.
As the final breath is taken I sit with you as I lay my stethoscope on her chest.
After a minute I look up and nod in confirmation with you as our eyes meet.
I acknowledge she is gone as I watch the tears stream down your cheeks.
In these moments I imagine if this was my mother lying there, how would I be taking it?
I barely know you yet here we are in the same room holding this moment together in
the intimate space of the hospital room full of the smell of antiseptics, perspiration, urine, feces and bleached linens.
I leave the room to let you grieve, as you know how.
Everyone is different, and some goodbyes take hours, some minutes.
All I can offer you is my hand on your shoulder, a hug, my condolence, and maybe a box of Kleenex.
I can’t tell you how you should feel.
Every-time this happens I shed tears for each one that dies, even the ones I barely knew,
But when I see your tear-streamed grief-stricken face it causes my eyes to well up
And my heart to ache just a little more as one more soul leaves this world.
People wonder how I can do this job,
but I feel so fortunate to be there standing with people in their darkest, bleakest moments.
Not to be there to tell them it’s going to be okay
Rather to stand with them, beside them and just let them be.
How much longer till I can do this again?
Right now there’s no other place I’d rather be.