Sunday, June 6, 2010

Listener

It's at times like these that I do not know if what I am doing is the right thing or if it even has a value.

I am sitting with Mr. _________ at the nursing home. I am sitting in his walker/chair, which he has never used in the several months that I have been coming to see him. It's odd because other than this walker/chair, the big high-backed wheelchair that he is usually sitting in when I arrive, there is only one place to sit, a great big faux-leather easy chair. It's over in the corner, facing away from the bed, and far too big to drag around the room, so usually I either kneel down near his bed or pull up the little walker-chair so I can face him and be near enough to him to talk, if he is awake.

Today, I am facing the bed. He is sleeping on his side, apparently because he has developed a bed sore on his lower back. This happened to Lynda too.

He is sleeping fitfully. He moans every so often and leans over as if to touch someone--his dead wife, no doubt--by holding up his outstretched arm with his other hand, like a kid in class waiting to be called on.

Then, he suddenly drops his arms and begins breathing deeply and heavily, almost like a death rattle. I saw this pattern with Lynda. She lingered in this state for a number of weeks, and it looks like it's going to be the same for Mr. __________.

This place, this 'nursing' home, is infused with waxy, chemical-laden air. Presumably it fights off the odors of excrement and old age, but in fact it simply overwhelms my senses. It often takes me two or three hours to clear my lungs of the air and my mouth of the taste.

There is television on in the room across the hall. There is always a television on, somewhere, in this place. The volume is pushed up to the maximum and the sound of an advertising jingle spikes into my consciousness.

"You know when it's real," I hear them sing, in a subliminally intentional plaintive double harmony.

Yes, I guess I do.

Here is what is real: Mr. __________ reaches over for his dead wife again, then digs at the sore on his back. I am only two feet away; I see and feel his unconscious desperation to be rid of the pain as if it were my own. I feel his desire to be restored to his lover. I grieve for his life, for whatever it may have been, and for what it has evolved into with this soft cycle. I know, even if he doesn't, that this state is--this will be--the rest of his life.

He knows. He's ready to move on, no doubt about it.

What can I do about this? If I were but the Angel of Death, I would call this man home. But I am no angel, of any sort. I am merely a witness to the end. I am merely a observer. I am not even a hand to lift or guide him, but a mere listener. I am but a place for the sound of his rasping breath to be absorbed.

Is that enough? And, if it is so important, why didn't I do more of it for Lynda? It is it really enough to go and sit with him for just an hour every week, doing nothing more than reading and meditating?

Perhaps it is. If anything, this experience with Hospice is teaching me to be more forgiving of myself and caregivers in general. Obviously, there are limits to what any of us can do. I certainly don't blame Mr. _________'s daughter for not being there all the time. In fact, I consider it a privilege to be permitted to come sit with him.

Is it enough? I don't know for sure, but for now, it will have to do.

2 comments:

d2 said...

Naturally, you couldn't do more for Lynda. Too close, too near to your heart.

Mr. ______ is a general stand-in who you can stand to watch slip away, who can stand far enough away to not cause you pain, but close enough to remind you of all that you can do.

Being there to witness, to listen, to know when it's real is enough.

bc said...

What is keeping Mr______ alive? Surely he is getting nothing more than a little water; it shouldn't last any longer, and no,there's nothing more that you or anyone else can do. Bless you.