I’m not up for details of the complicated nature of our relationship at this point, but my brother Scott was dead within a week of being told he had stage IV cancer. (DOD: March 3rd, 2017) He lived in CA. His remains were donated to research, then he was cremated and the ashes shipped to Chicago where my sister lives. We rendezvoused there and held a service this past Saturday. I returned yesterday with him.
Welcome home, Scott.
Is it me? Is it you? My thoughts run frantically after each other, twisting in confusion. I search for the path to the center. Was there a minotaur, or simply a mirror? When does a hospice worker get to say, “nope, not you”? Do you get to say bugger off to your calling? When seeking advice from the Ancestors, why do they snort-laugh and shrug?
Answers in order: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Whenever. Sure. Because they can.
If I can find a way to decipher my feelings around the situation it will all become clear, yes? Does a soul-cleanser get to say, “Not my job. I’m not the only Worker here”? Are there guns involved, and if so, what caliber? Will regret be involved? Does that change anything?
Answers: Same as the first set, choose as appropriate.
Decisions that shift hourly are exhausting. Life is exhausting. Death is exhausting. Sleep will be a temporary relief.
I have a hospice client I’ve been visiting since March. She is on a slow walk to death. She is unhurried about the process in all ways. She is directing it. Never doubt that the one who is doing the business of dying has a say in the progress. Every person I’ve sat with has shown this to be true. Not a stop to it, mind you, but the final puff of breath doesn’t come without consent.
Each week there is a little less fat under her skin as her illnesses take from her more than she can manage to replenish. She gets chilled easily so she wears thick clothes, lap blankets, and fingerless gloves pulled halfway done her hands. I see the upper half of her fingers, and I see the bones more clearly each visit. This week her gloves were pushed back to her wrists.
It was like an anatomy lesson laid out in topographic relief across the backs of her hands. Almond and purple tissue paper skin creates the ground with raised blue roads running the length, winding around knuckle-boulders as tendons stretch taut between unnaturally long looking bones. As she drifted in and out of naps I looked at her hands, fascinated that they could be reduced to their base elements, yet still function to pick tiny bits of of fluff from her blanket, grab my hand and pull it to her lips to give a kiss, then entwine her fingers for our prayer before I leave.
The human body is an amazing thing, and it stays just as amazing during the final slide to the door that we all go through. Blessings to the hands, and all they have done, and all they continue to do, even as they waste away to resembling the model strung up on poles in physiology labs. Blessings to the hands of the dying, offering poignant visuals to become memories for those who will remain.