Saturday, January 18, 2014

"The New Normal": A Miscellany

One of the first calls I took from the home hospice group began with the person asking me how we were adjusting to our "new normal." I answered that everything was spinning around, that we were in the middle of a cyclone of events and people and emotions and I didn't think there was anything remotely normal about it.

We've met our hospice team over the space of a few days. Home hospice nurses are fucking angels walking around among us. How people can be mean to them escapes me - I know everyone reacts differently to facing the final curtain, and for some it's so scary they go all badger-insane-spitty-bitey, but for us - we're so grateful to be so showered in grace - real, tangible, honeyed grace - coming from this group of care givers that it leaves us just breathless.

Hang on, Montag. Don't let him go.
Here's a little "brush with the Other Side" story. Everyone has one. When my mom passed away, I felt her leave. I don't know how else to describe it. There was just no connection any more - not that there was much of one while she was alive, but that's another story for a different blog. When my father died, it felt different. I could still sense him being around me - not all the time, just now and then. Like he was checking up on me. Sometime around 2001 one of my guilty pleasures was to watch "Crossing Over With John Edward." I know, I know. It was pure cheese, completely fake, and it fascinated me. There was one thing he talked about that always stuck with me. He said if you feel the presence of a loved one who's crossed over, speak to them, ask them for something from the natural world. Like a seashell, a stone, a particular kind of leaf. Ask them to leave it for you when they're near. The next time I felt my father near me, I asked him to leave me a white feather just to let me know for sure that he was thinking of me, too. A few days later I found a white feather in a doorway. Over the years I've gotten quite a few feathers - always in doorways, entrances, gateways.

I think it was Tuesday. I was taking out the trash, my brain was on fire with all that's happening - we went to the hospital that morning for an ultrasound to check for ascites but they found no significant fluid in Asa's abdomen. Which meant the abdominal swelling he has is from his liver enlarging. We suspected it was the case and still it was hard to hear, making things real all over again.
Nice hat. Great wheelchair.

I was standing at the edge of our tiny driveway, trying to calm down, trying to breathe deep. I turned to come back to the apartment and there on the ground, right behind our car in a clump of weed, was a puffy little white feather. A feeling of calm came over me. A lightness. A sudden weird little knowing. Death really isn't the end. It's another step in the journey. And my dad is waiting to meet him. I told Asa about it, and he smiled. "From what you've told me about him, I think your dad and I will like each other." I agree.

Hi Dad.
Asa has been sleeping more now than ever before in his life. He's been plagued with chronic insomnia for as long as I've known him, but that's all changed. He's catching up now with a vengeance. He dreams deeply, too. For a while, he was dreaming of menacing shadow shapes all around him. Then he was dreaming memories. Now they're a mix of sleeping and waking dreams. He's completely aware when he hallucinates. It doesn't seem to worry him much. 

Kurt Vonnegut said, "Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do us show you've been to college." And yet - a Facebook friend sent me a link to The Semicolon Project. I like this. From their page: "Semicolons represent a sentence the author chose not to end. You're the author, the sentence is your life."

I went grocery shopping on Sunday and for the first time in over ten years I went without him. It seemed so strange. My chest felt hollow. Even when he wasn't feeling well, he'd either drive me or be my co-pilot. The week before when we went to Smith's, there were no riding carts available, and he didn't have his walker - but rather than wait for me in the car, he struggled along with his cane. It was a lazy day and we took our time. We heard the Muzak playing something like "Lady In Red." He propped his cane against the grocery cart, took my hand and we swayed together in the pet food aisle, talking about our cats. We hadn't danced in the grocery store in a very long time and it was wonderful and I'm so very glad we did that.

Home hospice does this really amazing thing. First off, Medicare is paying for everything, so the financial worry is gone. Hospice nurses come on a regular basis to check on his condition. They get his meds for him. They send someone to sit with him when I have to be away to my own doctor's appointments. They eliminate all the petty distractions so you can focus on what's really important. You can work out your feelings and understand this part of life's journey and just share your existence and this is all part of what I meant when I said we are being showered with grace. Grace abundant and grace abiding.

Last Saturday I went to work. It made me crazy not to be home with him. By the end of the working day I made the decision to close the store temporarily. It's completely selfish of me and I don't care. How many people have this extraordinary opportunity? To be able to not just tell someone how much you love them, but manifest that love in ways that are real and meaningful?  I'll have the rest of my life to go to work and that can wait. Right now and for the rest of his life, I'll be here where I need to be. I can do no other thing. 

I suppose that's the New Normal.