Every morning I wake up the same way; I check the time, thankful for the additional twenty minutes I usually end up having before I need to get up, I think about the day before and go over the events and how they may have affected me, I set my nine intentions for the day and I anticipate the taste of my first sip of coffee. And then I shower, get dressed, pour myself a cup of coffee and I smile after that first sip, because it truly is one of the very best parts of the start of every day. Simple pleasures…
As I drink my coffee, I look at my schedule and the patients I get to see. Our patients are on hospice, which means their physicians estimate that based on their diagnosis, they have about six months or less to live. This is something I think about often. I have had my own health issues over the years, some that could have very easily been life ending, but never have I been given that diagnosis. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to be told that your life is about to end, and it could happen in six months or less. The weight of that feels very heavy to me. So, as you can probably imagine, I contemplate my own mortality and the fragility of life every day.
Every patient visit, every moment at a bedside, and every last breath I am witness to, teaches me about life and how fleeting it can be, and it reminds me every single day to appreciate all of my blessings. It slows my speed down a little, so that instead of racing through each day to get to the next, I now take pause and embrace the day before me, taking it all in with childlike enthusiasm. This works for me.
Unfortunately, what I have been witness to more recently is the shorter amount of time they have been given; a diagnosis attached with an “hours to days – maybe weeks” time frame. This news effects everyone, and it changes everything. I was recently honored to share the bedside of a mother and her two daughters. This brilliant, lovely and extremely funny woman was told three days earlier, which was shortly after she finished an eight-mile run, that her cancer (which she did not know she had) was spreading rapidly and there was no way to stop it. In a matter of moments, she was on a speeding train that was doomed and destined to hit a brick wall and yet, she handled it with so much grace.
I only spent about eight hours total with these amazing, brave women. I did my best to help them navigate the time they had left together. We cannot change the end result and sugar coating the obvious is not productive so I tend to be as straight forward and honest as I possibly can. I came at them with a “we got this” attitude and I sat them down for a very deep, honest, and what turned out to be, life altering (for me) conversation.
Her main concern, which as a momma I can relate to, was that her daughters took care of and supported each other always, that they knew how much they were loved and how truly blessed she was to be their mom. They knew this, way before she said her words, they have always known this, which is what made their relationship and the moments I shared with them so incredibly beautiful.
Her daughters told me that their mother had always lived a life with grace; she never took anything for granted and made sure to enjoy and embrace every moment. Both of them shared with me that she used to say things like, “who knows how much time we have”, which encouraged them to really focus on the beauty of life and the generous bounty it brought them, which sometimes simply meant sunshine and blue skies, waffles on Sundays or a soft blanket on days they didn’t feel well. They told me that she has always lived a graceful life, which I had heard before but honestly didn’t fully understand. I asked them what those words meant... to them. They told me she was gentle, kind, patient, and when she walked, it always felt as though she were dancing ever so softly, almost floating, with each step or gesture. I pondered these words for quite some time.
In my last few moments with her, she was so fully present in her own experience, knowing (without fear) that her time was close. She was not on any medication and she was not in any pain. She looked more beautiful than any human being I had ever seen before. There was so much softness about her. I whispered to her… “go with grace” and she whispered back, “I always have”.