I survived survival. It was an excellent experience for me. Somewhere along the line, between sitting around a fire and cleaning a rabbit skin and making a bowl by blowing on coal, I realized that I had achieved my goal of becoming a badass, and that, really, I didn’t have anything else to prove. I didn’t need to freeze my butt off sleeping in a tent, or a dusty, poky debris shelter – I could sleep in my van and STILL be a badass. I didn’t need to always wear my belt with my knife on it, or even always carry a knife – I could get my knife and use my knife when I needed it. And, most importantly, I didn’t need to play WOW, drink home-brewed beer or whiskey, be a Dr. Who fan, or neglect personal hygiene – I could be just who I already was, add my new skillz, and be a badass. So mote it be.
Besides, my fellow immersion student, Lisa, kept a fantastic blog – and took a lot of pictures – so if I really need to remember it in great detail, I can always go there: http://ninemonthsofsurvival.wordpress.com/
Meanwhile, on the hospice front…
Volunteering to hang out with elderly, dying people was a natural choice for me. And, thanks in part to having inherited my mother’s talent for enjoying ‘geris’, I seem to be pretty good at it. And I love it. Until these wonderful old folk die, and then they are gone, and I don’t get to hang out with them anymore.
My first hospice patient, Anne, was a cherry assignment. She was the great-aunt to one of the folks who run the hospice service; she was living with a sweet, wonderful, generous caregiver who welcomed me; she was completely lucid, sharp, and sassy, and had great stories to tell. Her death was a surprise to me in many ways. When I last saw her she wasn’t feeling well – but she was plump and rosy and always had a good appetite, so I left on vacation feeling pretty sure I’d see her again. I got the call just as I approached the Tower of Terror ride at Disney’s California Adventure – there I was, standing in the Happiest Place on Earth ™ and weeping on my husband’s shoulder because my 98-year-old congestive heart failure hospice patient had died. And it was two days after my birthday, too.
Anyway, I got to attend her funeral, and meet many of the people she talked about, and share the stories she’d told me. I got closure, and that was good.
Meanwhile, I had taken on two other patients, and I continued to visit them. One was a skeletal man named Johnnie, a vet who was injured in Iwo Jima during WWII. What a guy. He stunned me with his stories – overseas fighting for two years, with no leave, no phone calls home to his wife. TWO YEARS. They wrote letters, which arrived full of black marks, courtesy of censorship. He came home just before the 4th of July. When the fireworks started, they woke his wife, who realized he was not in bed with her. She looked everywhere for him – and found him under their bed, trying to dig a foxhole. Shellshock, they called it. He built the house he lived in with first his wife and kids, and then his wife, and then his caretaker and her toddler daughter. I enjoyed my visits to Johnnie, even if it was taking a while to get into a groove with him, as I had done with Anne.
My other patient was also skeletal – and ornery as … well, ornery. She was curled up, fragile, and pissed off. N had had a very tough life. Cruel stepfather. Sadistic step brother. Cruel husbands. Horrid children. Now she was in this adult care home with well-meaning people who loved her, despite how very hard she was to love. No story, no memory, no matter how pleasant, came without a sharp, painful twist. To visit N was to face my own mortality – to sit with such anger and regret and loss and not flinch. It was hard, really, really hard. But I fed her, and I told her stories, and I listened to hers, and I made her laugh. We laughed a lot, actually. In the end I grew to love her as much as I loved Anne.
Johnnie and N died within a week of each other. I didn’t get to say goodbye to either – and because they both had horrid children – there was no funeral, no service, no memorial. No closure. That part has been difficult. I will not forget either of them.
My remaining patient is D. She was a hospice patient, but she is stable and was changed to ‘home care’ status – but I still go visit her. Of the four patients I’ve had, I find D the most challenging, because she is so incredibly dull. There is no feistiness, no appetite, no anger, no sorrow, no regret. She has nothing interesting inside, and nothing on the outside interests her. I read to her, I bring books for us to look at, I try and try to start conversations with her, but she just won’t engage. That is my challenge with D. She sits and waits for her life to be over. Just. Sits.
But I still visit her. I hope to take on a few new patients. I hope to take a few more survival classes. And in between, there is all the other stuff. Which is for my next post.