Friday, February 19, 2010


I was looking at pictures of Joseph this morning. It wasn't a premeditated move; every now and then I just get drawn to him and need to see him again. I am so busy since nursing school started that it doesn't happen often anymore. I can almost give a wry smile, feeling the wave of disbelief hit me anew. Somewhere in me, I still can't believe he is gone. I love his face. I really miss his smile. I'm catching up with a lot of old friends these days and making a lot of new ones, and it is hard to believe none of them, both the old and the new, ever knew him. We are now in our fourth year without him. I do okay until I realize that and it hits me. The permanence of his absence can still dismay me. Some wee little part of my brain I think continues to wish so fervently it was all just a very bad dream.

I got to work with real, live patients for the first time this week. I am almost embarassed at the intense joy this all is giving me. I worry I am missing ten million miles of road I should have seen by letting myself go into these throes of energy and elation. I found it so humbling to bathe people who could not bathe themselves; the look of bliss as they closed their eyes, tilted their heads while I stroked their faces clean with a warm, damp washcloth. Seeing the sweet flush of color come to their aging, fragile skin. I had concerns about being so intimate. I feared (and still fear to be honest) the sights and smells that I will experience. But that place I would go to during Joseph's more horrible moments apparently was not reserved only for my child, which I think some part of me also feared might be the case. It actually surprised me, to have these patients thank me. I felt like thanking them for the dignity and purpose I felt as I did these small tasks. I know I swim in a sea of idealism right now. I am trying hard to give myself permission to just enjoy it, that I am taking down mental pictures to access when it does get unpleasant and hard. Nursing is a very political world and the state of our country's healthcare makes giving the kind of care we want rather difficult. I know my struggles in this profession will be more with those things than with having to take care of sick people. I am starting the process of weeding out in my mind how I want to specialize, where I want to be. I am quite certain I do not want to work with kids. But I was equally as certain I did not want to work with the elderly, and one day of clinical has already made me rethink that notion. I enjoyed the aged so much this week. I never pictured myself laughing with them as much as I did, nor pictured hearing their sharp minds trapped in feeble bodies evaluating me, my education and clothing, the state of their bodies, the level of my skill (low. very low), the world they enjoy (or don't) outside of the hospital walls. I cannot describe how satisfying it was to me. It was an exhausting day, such an intense high.

I am loving also the friendships I am forming through school. I am so awed and inspired by the passion and struggles of my classmates. We are torn down to our most vulnerable selves, every fear we have about relating to other people and about failure put on display before one another. I have to control my urge to hug people. I don't want to be that creepy girl who is always touching someone! But we had our first exams this week and seeing us all pushing through that initial first huge hurdle was just....incredible. Some did well, some did not, but in all of it, there too was so much dignity. I felt so competitive and insecure in the process of trying to get into nursing school. Now, that is fading. I want all of these people with me when we graduate. I want these bonds. I remember a time in my life when I was alone at home with three babies and so freaking lonely - and miserable. Depressed, nearly suicidal. And I had no idea that was what was missing in my life. Relationships. I value it so much now.

So I seem to have gotten a high B on my exam. We had review yesterday where we could get a preliminary look at how we did. That grade may go up a tad as they review the questions and decide whether to throw any out. I am really pleased with that. Nursing exams are HARD. There is more than one correct answer. You have to think out which is the most correct and it can be very minute and complicated. I also passed my first skills exam. No grade on those, just a pass or fail. It has been a super good week.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I am so engrossed. All I think about, dream about, focus on is school. We have started going to the hospital for clinical rotations....the newest of the new of health care providers, unable to do much more than take blood pressures and temperatures, to lend a listening ear and document what we hear, change linens and help people out of bed. So much lies ahead that it is almost unfathomable to me, and the ugly face of nursing school and hospital politics has shown a glimpse of their faces now that the early days are over. Yet I am not deterred. I have an inner fear of seeming naive and unrealistic. It has never been my desire to be a dreamer and I hate nothing more than feeling foolish in front of others. But even knowing all of this and even within my attempts to rein myself in, gain my footing and proceed forward in an air of practicality and systematic accomplishment, I still find myself walking on air and engrossed in what I am doing to the exclusion of everything else. And this, subsequently, brings me a great deal of guilt. I come home and do my school work, focus on where my life is going, daydream of all the ways the knowledge I am gaining is going to impact my life and hopefully those of others. And then the kids get home or Joe comes through the door and it is almost startling to realize how much I was NOT thinking about any of them, for hours and hours upon end. I find myself looking for signs of discontentment. The housework I am struggling to keep up with screams "neglect! neglect! chaos and tragedy! You are going to wind up alone!!" at me. It is enough to make me neurotic. If Joe doesn't come to bed at the same time as me. If I have to ask Stewart to hang on to the boys during inclement weather in case they have a snow day but I do not. All these things hang on me, pulling like a weight of fear on my heart. And my experiences with Joseph's brief life tangle me up. The boys will finish growing up while I am on this journey. Is that a mistake, for me to do this right now? I am going to miss things. But they are so happy for me - it is as if they sense it. I have not talked about it to them openly. But last weekend I explained to them about the housework and the four of us living here, that their age and the nature of keeping a household makes them very capable of helping out, and that I need them to. I gave them a list that seemed neary overwhelming to me. Yet in the span of about two or three hours, they had their rooms cleaned and vacuumed, two of our three bathrooms scrubbed, the dishes done and floors swept and each had done his own laundry complete with folding it and putting it away. What's more, they did it without a single grumble of complaint. In fact, they seemed focused and cheerful.

Either I am underestimating the men with whom I share my life, or underestimating myself. Perhaps both. I get so anxious and tangled. I have no interest in going to work, yet when I do, it is fulfilling and stress relieving. I want to do nothing but keep studying. Even when I am in the tub, the book I choose to read usually has something to do with what we are doing in school. All of us will benefit from me doing this, certainly monetarily, but probably in other ways as well. Why then do I feel so guilty and so scared? It is neurotic and I know it, but I don't know how to stop it. I think if I were not so contented in this educational process and if I were not so engrossed, I would not feel that way. It is the sense of "resurfacing" when I come out of my study as Joe gets home or I pick up the boys. The feeling of having to adjust, look around, see what's going on in the rest of the world. I feel like I am going to miss something, some sign that I should heed. I worry about them being happy. And I feel guilty that something that involves them only on the periphery makes me so fundamentally happy....that if I had none of them and were doing this, it still would be making me happy. It is a first. It is disconcerting. Joe gives me repeated permission to hold and contain and savor this joy and I feel very fortunate in that. I may need to hear it a lot before I really get good with it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Three Weeks In

I am having the time of my life. Every day I leave school with deep, rich waves of contentment moving through my spirit, like a river of chocolate. I am not sure I have ever experienced anything this satisfying before. It is a crazy world and our learning is just beginning, but the sense of purpose and belonging as I begin to get to know my classmates, my instructors and myself is intense. I am making new friends, learning new things every day and wake up each morning around 5:30 all on my own, ready to review what I had been working on the day before. I am being consumed and it is a sweet surrender.

That said, it is the most work I have ever had to do in my life. There is an inner anxiety just beneath my surface at all times. We have learned just enough to know how much we do NOT know. All this talk of Evidence-Based Nursing, The Nursing Process, critical thinking skills, laws and ethics and drugs and ethnic diversity and spiritual needs of the patient, liabilities - they pretty much toss us into the water and then reassure us that we may be drowning right now but sooner or later we'll be able to swim. The instructors are fabulous; stern and strong, caring and focused and most of all, passionate about nursing and seeming to love our green idealism, utilizing it to spur us onward into this journey. I have heard of nursing schools where that is not the case and I am so thankful to have made it into this one, which is the number one rated nursing school in Texas.

Today in class we went over all the paperwork involved in clinical rotations. The first hour of class was actually spent telling our 'stories'.. 48 students who all have different reasons for getting to that moment in time. I do not think I have ever told the story of my dream in public or in front of any kind of an audience. Obviously those closest to me know, one on one, about the day I said good-bye to my son and about the promise I made to him, to stop running from those things I wanted for my life, but that I avoided due to overwhelming fear and uncertainty. I rose to the moment, spoke of my son, of his care, of my internal battles and challenges and the culmination of a lifetime of avoidance and fear that in the face of his own courage and dignity could no longer be offered safe harbor. I was sweating as if I wore no deoderant and shaking like I did the day we held his funeral. I am not one to tear up in front of others, but my hands were clutched to keep them still, yet betrayed by my wavering voice that spilled out in tears. The entire class wept with me. Part of me feels bad for that; part of me is cleansed. So many stories were told, all of them valid, poignant and inspirational. These already are friendships that I take so much solace and satisfaction from. The passion and dedication of my classmates fuels my own, so that even as I stumble on with the intensity of my fear, I am held steady. We are all afraid. I am learning my fear is not unique.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not an overly religious person, particulary since Alexander's brain tumor and Joseph's illness and subsequent death. I have struggled with the concept of a God who allows such things to happen. As a young woman I prayed often and fervently; I had an active relationship with God and with Christ. As a mature woman who has seen so much suffering, my ability to pray in any traditional sense has disappeared. But time has given me tentative healing; I still cannot pray as I used to nor have conversations with God. Honestly I do not understand so much and it makes me feel mistrustful. It is interesting to me then that through this experience, I find myself often thinking of my ideals, my goals and what I want to accomplish, and finding quiet moments of solemn reflection that are undeniably spiritual in nature; reflections that speak of a desire to embody that which I wish to convey, which can only be contemplated as a mirror of some kind of godliness. I do not know if I have to believe to portray this. I don't NOT believe. But my faith has been shaken on a core level and I cannot also say that I do. I have often wondered if at the core it is some kind of childishness of the spirit - "You didn't give me what I wanted so I'm not gonna believe in you anymore God. You hear me?!" If so, I guess I have to believe God as the ultimate parent would "get" that on some level. No matter what it is, the Amy Grant songs of my youth that gave me a kind of rapturous desire to be holy no longer speak to my soul with any kind of pertinent meaning. It is different. I could not tell anyone now they need to believe or be saved. My only hope, as I become who I believe now I have been meant to be, is to convey some sense of peace, and in that peace, some sense of God present in the dignity of the soul.

When Joseph was very sick, a particularly devout mother of another sick child gave me an album as a gift from a group called Casting Crowns. As it turned out, it was a Christian album, and I found it to be almost a betrayal at the time. I hated it. But I put it in the other day and listened - and I find myself listening still, particularly to a song called "And Now My Lifesong Sings". I can hear it from so many angles. From Joseph, who will live on in the spirit of my efforts. From Joseph who is now in heaven and beyond what I can comprehend. From myself to the patients I hopefully will serve one day after I am educated enough to be of use. Another, called "Love Them Like Jesus" speaks to me. I don't think I have to be a bible thumper to recognize the person that Jesus was and to emulate him. I am not black like Maya Angelou, but I certainly recognize and respect her wisdom and strength. I don't know how I feel about God or about Jesus as The Son of God, but I know that goodness is a universal language and comfort a universal need.

My days are full. Positive. Energized. Grateful. I am glad I got to tell my peers about my child. About my ordeal. About myself. I am glad I got to hear about theirs. My vulnerability opened a wave of it from others and we all left drained, hugging, cleansed, bonded. Even the instructors cried.