Learning to be and be with

Sometimes you hope for a quiet Sunday and…nope. I suppose that is to be expected. At the hospital, things are changing for people all the time. When I arrived this morning, there were messages of impending demise and patient angst. The operative words have been comfort care and “we just want what’s best for her/him.” Even when those are the sentiments, it can be hard to know exactly what is comforting and what is best.

This summer, I am learning to sit with people through the anxiety, the unknowing, and the pain. Compassion literally means to suffer with – and that is what I am doing much of the time, sitting with patients and their families as they consider hard choices and try to make meaning from what is happening to them and around them. (It is, in fact what the families are doing together for each other – being compassionate.) What we learn in chaplaincy is that we can’t make people’s problems go away, but we can be with them. And sometimes presence is not only enough, it is best.

It is hard when things don’t go as planned. When a father takes a turn for the worse, when a sibling takes her own health for granted, when a neighbor has a terrible accident. You can see it in the eyes sometimes, this feeling that life is changing course but no one has been given the new map yet.

For me, it is a job. I get to go home at the end of the day. (Or in this case, tomorrow morning). But these patients and families are teaching me patience. They are teaching me how to wait and and be present. (Didn’t I recently say I was impatient with my patients? Shame on me!) It is inspiring to see people stop their busy-ness and just BE with each other – a light in the darkness, as it were. They are anxious, they crave information, they want to know what to do. But what they do is wait with their loved one. Being there for one another in the waiting is the one thing no one else can give them.

 

2 thoughts on “Learning to be and be with

  1. Mary,
    Here is a poem that I read on facebook. I know not all you patients are older, but it speaks a little for all of us.

    When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
    Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

    One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

    And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.

    Cranky Old Man

    What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
    What are you thinking .. . when you’re looking at me?
    A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
    Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
    Who dribbles his food .. . … . . and makes no reply.
    When you say in a loud voice . .’I do wish you’d try!’
    Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
    And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
    Who, resisting or not . . . … lets you do as you will,
    With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
    Is that what you’re thinking?. .Is that what you see?
    Then open your eyes, nurse .you’re not looking at me.
    I’ll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
    As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
    I’m a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
    Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
    A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
    Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet.
    A groom soon at Twenty . . . ..my heart gives a leap.
    Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
    At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
    Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
    A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
    Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
    At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
    But my woman is beside me . . to see I don’t mourn.
    At Fifty, once more, .. …Babies play ’round my knee,
    Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
    Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
    I look at the future … . . . . I shudder with dread.
    For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
    And I think of the years . . . And the love that I’ve known.
    I’m now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
    It’s jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
    The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
    There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
    But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
    And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
    I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
    And I’m loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
    I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
    And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
    So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
    Not a cranky old man .
    Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. …. . ME!!

    Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. We will all, one day, be there, too!

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