I look down as I massage her hands and wrists. My hands are strong, muscled and tanned. In my hands, hers look doughy and child-like, pale but with the softest skin. We joke her skin is a smooth as a baby’s behind. She drifts off to sleep as I stroke her.
I sit silently. Meditating on the window-pane pattern of the bedspread that covers her frail shell. The intersecting lines remind me of our lives that have now crossed. She is unknown to me, yet I am invited into her most intimate moments. I am a stranger to her, yet she treats me as a dear old friend. I bring a smile and fresh-cut flowers from her garden. I hope it is enough to allow her the peace to sleep, for I am sure, in her dreams her body is whole, healthy and pain-free. Her dignity is intact there.
A fluffy black cat strolls into the room on silent feet. He jumps up on the foot of her bed and winks solemnly at her with huge yellow eyes. His purring is low, a song of comfort. Another cat appears. It looks warily at me from the door. What do these creatures think? How do they process the changes in their home and lives? Strangers come and go, their mistress sleeps on.
I want to be busy. I want to offer a fix, make things better, solve a problem. Calming my restless mind, I try to imagine what peace looks like. How can I manifest a sense of safety and calm? I go back to meditating on the intersecting lines and breathe in time with her. The slumbering breaths become slower and deeper as she slips into her dream world.
I am helpless and selfish. This scene is beyond my abilities to process and yet I soak in the emotion of her struggle. I wade through the fragile physical realm of her life with my strong body. She fights to control a body in the throes of collapse. Her daughters smile down on us from a photo on the wall. Twins astride identical gray horses. Their youth and vitality a stark contrast to the war their mother is fighting.
She wakes and smiles at me, embarrassed that she has forgotten my name.
3 comments on “Palliative Care 2”
I know that you know how close to home this hits me. Yesterday I sat with my father-in-law while he dug deep into the archives of his life. He was telling stories of sneaking into the old Boston Garden by climbing up the fire escape and sitting in the rafters to watch the game. While it was a fascinating story, I wish I knew who he was talking to because it wasn’t me. In a moment of lucidity, he told me that he knew he was dying and that he was ok with it. He asked me to have his pastor come and see him. I don’t know when, but I don’t think it will be long now. Like you, I am a natural fixer, so I understand the feeling of helplessness. But I know that he is comforted by my presence, so that in itself gives me a little peace.
Laura, I did think of you as I was writing this. Your sentiments are so close to the heart.