When people ask me why I do the work I do, which is a question I get often, I usually say the same thing each time; while yes, I see a lot of death, and I see a lot of sadness and ache, I also see so much love. I have written about this before. You have heard me say this a lot. This work allows me into the lives of some of the most beautiful humans I am blessed to meet… even if it is for just a few hours. I see love, I see culture and tradition, I see a beautiful commitment to faith, and I am reminded with every experience just how precious and beautiful life is and I find myself reminded to feel gratitude every single day for all of my blessings. Even on the toughest of days, which there are many.
Most times I am asked this by family members of patients, sometimes by random strangers when they see I am wearing scrubs, and always from people I just meet who ask what I do for a living. The other day, I was asked this by a patient, which took me a bit by surprise. I see this patient often, and have been for several weeks, so we have a routine. We always end the visit sitting on the edge of the bed together, and he asks to see photos of craft projects I am working on, or pictures of my granddaughters, and he always asks me to tell him “something”, which I always do. I share a story about something I did, or will be doing, something about a class I am taking, or something fun that might have happened to me.
On this particular day, he said, “why do you work with people who are going to die, isn’t that hard for you?” I responded the way I usually do, finishing with, “and I get to meet people like you”, which made him smile. And then I watched him rub his hands together and look down as though he were in deep thought, and he took my hand and looked up at me and said, “thank you for being here for me. I am not ready to die yet but when I am, I would want to know that you were the one taking care of me”. I can’t be certain, but I think it was at that moment that he realized he did not have much time left and his life was soon to end. That felt very heavy to me.
We talked a little longer after that and then he walked me to the door, gave me the usual fist bump, and said, “I hope I get to see you again”. And the minute I got into my car, I cried… and then cried some more, because I knew… there was no guarantee I would see him again.
Whether you work in hospice and see death often, or you are simply visiting a family member or friend, you do not have any guarantee that you will see that person again after you walk out the door. You would think I would have that totally figured out by now, but I think his reaction and my reaction to his, reminded me again, that death is very, very final.
I find lately that I have been considering my own mortality. If I walk out the door of a patient, knowing there is a very good chance I won’t see them again, I am suddenly having a huge realization that someone walking out my door, could have that same feeling. I don’t want to die, certainly not any time soon. I have so much more I want to do, and so many things I haven’t stopped enjoying yet. I cry as I write this because I think of how much I would miss out on if it happened for me today. Death is very real, and very final and there is definitely no turning back and asking for a do-over. And while I want so much more time, I am reminded, once again, to embrace right now, today, this very moment that I am completely certain about.
I do my best to live in the now, to appreciate all my many amazing moments, but I think I want to add to that not the “I hope I see you again”, but instead… the, “I am really glad to see you now”. Because that is all I can truly count on, and that is the moment that matters most.