Whether we wish it so or not, whether we comprehend how it can do so, the world spins on. Time doesn't stop. Things don't grind to a halt, and everything keeps moving, sometimes without even pausing to notice.
I'm new to hospice; I only began volunteering this summer, but I both visit with a patient and the family and I make bereavement phone calls and attend the bereavement luncheons each month. Through this volunteering, I'm learning how many people I know have dealt with hospice, and I get insight into what a difference it can make for families and patients. I am also humbled at the hospice's staffs' concern and caring and continual process of dealing with losses. The compassion and concern, the care and the sense of calling pervade the hospice. These are people that make me feel blessed to know them.
I lost my patient Monday. I lost. The family lost their loved one. I didn't know my patient except in the last few months of the patient's life, but I came to love the patient and look forward to my visits, which were the highlight of my week. And I feel this loss, as if my heart breaks in two and I am left breathless, my world not spinning, as I hurt for the family and what they must now cope with, as I hurt for what they were all coping with throughout the dying process. It was truly an honor and a privilege to be allowed inside their lives, to be there with them during this time.
Monday, my family lost the oldest pet, Scooter, who was 16, according to what the vet had for date of birth. 16. More than a third of my life this dog with his indomitable will has been a fixture. But as much as that dog meant to me, he meant the world to my mother, who was his person. He went through a lot in his doggy life: a broken back at 2 and an expensive surgery. He was near blind, mostly deaf, and barely able to walk at the end, and we're pretty sure more than a little lost, but my gods, he still had heart. He still had will. It seems impossible to love an animal so much, and yet, you do. And I did. We all did. My daughters lost three animals since May that have been a daily part of their lives all their lives. Bobby lost animals that he loved, and above all, my parents lost two dogs who delighted them, completed them, and their house is so empty without Cookie and Scooter. We still feel Ibit's loss each day in this house, although Little Dude works hard to fill those shoes and does a good job of easing that hurt.
The people we let into our hearts, even if for a short time, even knowing we have come to them because they are terminally ill, are worth the investment of our hearts. They enrich us in ways that make the loss worth the price. And I know this, not from the wisdom gained in one patient's loss, but because I was raised watching my mother, as a home health nurse, do this over and over and over again. I know this because of the love she gave her patients out at the assisted living center and how she felt after losing one of them. I know this because my youngest brother Kyle has followed in my mother's calling and is a home health nurse and invests his time, his energy and his heart in his patients, and he keeps doing it, year after year, in different capacities, giving of himself and caring, despite the costs, because what he gains is worth it.
And so I'll ask today to be assigned a new patient, and I will start all over again, learning to love a new family, even though the loss is inevitable and the whole reason I'm there in the first place.
The animals we bring into our families become as beloved and important as any other member of our family. They love us without reservation. They give their all and ask for so little in return. I hope that in the coming months, a new dog will join my parents' household and our lives, so that we can fall in love all over again. But until then, and always, we will miss those animals who have gone on, who have left us behind. We remember them all, and the older we get, the more we say goodbye to. Our lives, though, are better for having had them as our companions for a short part of our journey.
The finalities of the losses, the fact that the world spins on, whether we wish it so or not, these leave us breathless, shell-shocked, and grief-stricken. And yet, we pick up, we move forward, we keep going because the world spins on in an ever graceful, dizzying, life-affirming spin and we are all the better because we hold on tightly and take the time to find the way to embrace that and go weeeeeee!