I spent 14 days in a hospice room watching the strongest man I’ve ever known wilt away. They were the longest days of my life as I worried about keeping him comfortable and struggled with my own realization that this was the end. There were moments he’d talk, mostly far out drug induced dreams or silly conversations, and times he’d fall so deeply into sedation I could only count the seconds between each breath.
I’d call the nurse in at every change or wrinkle in his brow to see what was going on. There were times I’d see a single tear drip from his eye and down his face and worry if he was in pain or scared.
Hospice nurses are a breed I will never understand but will forever be grateful. How could anyone dedicate their life to watching people die? Yet, it’s a calling far beyond any I could ever be brave enough to tackle. The nurses would answer my questions with care and a wisdom that you can only gain from seeing life in its final moments over and over again.
“He’s on a journey,” the nurse told me as I stroked his hand and worried. “In the end we are taken on a journey to our next place and along the way we see our life play out for us in our mind.”
She went on to tell me about a woman who died with a giant grin on her face. She had seen others weep, sob, in their final days as they approached their last breathe. There was part of me that questioned if she really knew what she was talking about, but I could not deny the matter-of-fact way she told me about her experiences and the beauty that is “our journey”.
I couldn’t help but wonder what was Joe seeing underneath that beautiful head of hair? He had lived a happy, wonderful life and I knew he had no regrets and no unfinished business. I hope he gets a choice to stay in one part of his life forever in heaven, he’d be about 10 years old— 1993.
It was something I was always teasing him about because anytime a movie was on TV from the 90s you better believe he was stopping and we were watching until the end. You know them, The Addams Family, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sandlot, Dennis the Menace, Free Willy– yes, even Free Willy.
While it became a joke in our house, I knew it had a much deeper meaning to him. To a man who was forced to carry so much burden and so much pain, being 10 years old again sounded pretty good. It was long before his dad got sick. It was long before he got sick.
10-year-old Joe lived in a happy home where he and his friends ran the neighborhood. He spent his days recording Full House episodes on VHS tapes so he could have a leaning tower to pile up in his family’s oversized van as they drove to Wisconsin. His biggest worry was if he could keep up on the jet skis with the older cousins and getting lost in the woods.
I like to think of these stories Joe told me so many times and think that he got to go back there and spend a lot of time, carefree.
It makes you think about your own journey and what moments would play for you and where you’d want to hit repeat again and again. Of course, there are also the times you want to fast forward right through. I wonder how I’ll look back at the pain I feel right now, will I want to skip it all? Or watch with a heart that knows that it was loved?
It’s too soon to tell.
I unfortunately still see those 14 days in my head from time to time. I sometimes think I make myself play it over so I can know that this all really happened.
In the quiet of the night, there’s just no way of avoiding that this is my truth, but I play the happy times too.
So many memories I thought I’d forgotten and then in an instance I’m dancing with Joe in the kitchen in our first apartment again. Today, it was the Zac Brown Band song, Whatever It Is, playing on the radio as I drove Mira to her first day of “school”. I was filled with overwhelming emotions. Making this major milestone in our little girl’s life without him, while hearing the song Joe would sing to me, it was almost more than I could handle.
I stared in the rearview at a baby determined to tear her shoes off, and I tasted the salty tears covering my face. I looked ever the part of a heartbroken mother as I waived her goodbye and I felt thankful for the journey, my journey, our journey.