Thursday, July 14, 2011


I am sitting here waiting for my stats tutor to show up and babysit my retarded brain as I attempt to muddle through yet another "interactive educational" experience. Online learning. I should write a post about it. I will write a post about it. Not today. Today I want to write about death. What else would I want to talk about?

I am doing a field placement at a Jewish hospital. I suppose its Jewishness is irrelevant in the same way my jewishness is. Or maybe it is relevant in the same way mine is, but I digress. Today is not about the Jew. Today has a priest. Part of my work involves hanging out in palliative care. For those of you in the know, you are aware that palliative care is where they send us to die. They make it air conditioned, there are cookies and free coffee and they even validate your parking and don't charge you for the private room . The universe in all its irony decided to place the psyche ward adjacent to the palliative and so you can frequently see shoeless muttering smokers looking for the elevator. There is perhaps something poetic about placing the psychotics in the same elevator as grieving spouses and children, but I leave that to Poe.

My role there is fairly undefined. I pretty much troll for emotional pain. If I see a patient or a family member with that panicked, overwhelmed look in their eyes, I offer then a coffee or a jello and then a talk.

The other day there was a woman with "the look". I asked her what she needed and in French she desperately mouthed "cafe". She was sitting next to an sunken and yellow man who was, as they so gracefully call it, "actively dying." Somehow this conjures up images of Jane Fonda in a leotard to me; for the active dyer. I brought her the coffee and she told me a little bit about herself. She said she was the man's niece and he had been like a father to her. He could not really talk anymore and he kept pulling at his clothes like he wanted to strip them off. It was reminiscent of a 2 year old who had been forced to wear something uncomfortable, ineptly fumbling but inevitably succeeding at exposing himself.

The woman was strung tightly. You could see she was using every effort to simply keep her shit together as she tried to communicate to and calm down her uncle. I said to her that she should take a real break. That I could sit with him and she could have her coffee in the family room. . You could see her relax, just for a second, at the relief of not having to have this image, this image of dying, right in front of her with no respite even if it was only for ten minutes.

I have never sat so close to death before and I had this thought. I thought, I will look at this. I will look right at it; meditate on it, watch it and see it without rationalization. All you want to do is look away and I wanted to stare it in the face and try to find the beauty. It was there somewhere and I knew it.

He was extremely agitated and I wet his lips with this little lip sponge they have. It looks like a tiny pink popsicle. They feed them ice cream and jello a lot there too. I put my hand on his shoulder and he calmed down. We just sat. Soon a priest walked by. He was a strapping African man. He came in and offered last benediction and the man somehow returned from wherever he had been and managed to genuflect. I found this amazing. That this is what got to him. He accepted the rights and then went back to where ever he had been with his uncomfortable clothes and far off stare.

The niece returned. She had found whatever space she had needed to make it back in there. I left to go to my office and several minutes later she found me. She was crying. She said, My dad died a year ago today and I know he is going to die on this day. I said yes, he probably will, and gave her a hug. I tried to console her by telling her the priest had come and he had received the last rights.

And here is where my job is fucked. Or funny. Or something. She looked at me and said, oh really? She lowered her voice and said, my uncle is very proud of his heritage. He made me promise that a there would be no black priests at his funeral. He specifically wanted a white man to usher him into the next realm. What was I supposed to respond? I opted to not. I opted to give her another hug and tell her that she should go tell him whatever she needed to say to him and that he knew she loved him and it showed.

Where does the universe find its perverse sense of humour from? I don't even know how to end this post except to say I will never forget this day. I looked at it. And I saw it.

1 comment:

  1. Very compelling writing. My mum has been doing this sort of work for several years now (with death and the dying that is). I'll never forget when she told me about the first time she assisted with the care of a stillborn child. I don't recall what her actual title is, but that is what she does - takes care of dead babies.