As graduation from nursing school approaches in three weeks, I find myself becoming more and more neurotic. I have thoughts, actions, even physical feelings in my body that make no sense to me, alarm me, frighten me. Having moved past this blog, having slipped the hands of acute grief and gotten pretty good at bearing up under the everyday weight of it, I am finding it is sharp edged, insipid, callous once more. I know the two are linked. I started my path to becoming an RN just four months after Joseph died. It was the one thing I could grab onto that was solid, purposeful and sensible. I like things that are solid, purposeful and sensible. Men. Tasks. Items. Clothing. Furniture. So school took something that was as full of chaos and insensibility and without purpose as anything I had ever known - the death of my oldest child - and turned it into something orderly and filled with clear mile markers. And I think somewhere deep inside me I figured through the path of becoming an RN I would weather this whole painful episode until it got to the bearable part. But it isn't working out that way.
Instead I am finding I have linked this journey almost irrevocably with the timing of Joseph's death. While this is probably the largest accomplishment of my life in terms of a prior set, conscious goal that I did the work for and actually met, I am struggling with it ending. Being a nursing student has become part of my identity. The idealism of it has been an cool salve in the burned crater of my loss. As I transition from student to RN, the idealism fades into the realities of poor staffing and budget constraints that affect quality of care and the cattiness that comes when you get a bunch of stressed out women judging one another for fear of being judged themselves. Nursing is a difficult profession and probably taking care of the patients is the least difficult aspect. As I assimilate these realities, I feel how far I have stepped from the last day Joseph lived. I realize somewhere in me that I never really wanted to graduate; in a vague respect, I could have stayed in nursing school forever, feeding off the energy of the crisis of Joseph's illness and earning the soft nods of approval and respect for taking on something so difficult so soon after he died. I have fed off the accolades that have come to me for being strong, cloaked myself in the mantle of achievement as a kind of armor against the raw reality of his absence. It helped me to have something to do. I am not sorry for that. I see now I had to - that is my personality. If I had not found something like this, my mind (which contrary to popular belief is actually not all that strong) would have crumbled willingly under the weight of tragedy.
I am glad to be graduating. I am going to be a good nurse. I seem to have a natural affinity for certain parts of it - the systematic means of accomplishing tasks comes easily to me and time management does not seem to plague me quite as much as it often does for new graduate RNs. I fear missing things, fear giving medications when I should not, fear my assessment skills falling short in a budding crisis that could be averted if I were swift and smart and skilled. Time management is important but anyone can learn how to make it to a room in time to put the pill in the patient's mouth. The part of learning on the quick whether putting that pill in the patient's mouth is appropriate is a different animal all together.
My fear of hurting someone combines with the shedding of my student identity and all is wrapped within the realisation that whatever mourning I had managed to put off in the name of exams and skills lab is waiting here for me at the end. It has lead this time, which I always pictured to be nearly euphoric with accomplishment when I imagined it, to be more solemn, more tearful, more fearful, more uncertain than seems appropriate from the outside looking in. I don't feel like a nurse yet. In fact, that I can sit for the licensing exam to become one now is a little scary to me. Surely there is someone more qualified. On top of this fear, I am just plain sorrowful.
It has been a journey. I have found redefinition through it. It has been wonderful, full of exciting moments, proud moments, happy times, new friends, self discovery. The sorrow I have been feeling seems paradoxical and definitely seems to confuse many people around me. I am elated to have made it and yet a little bit baffled. I think I have been so engrossed in being a student that the actuality of leaving student status is just weird and scary. There is power in striving for something. People relate to that. There is more quiet and peace demanded in just being something. I am not sure I do quiet and peace very well. I don't feel quiet. I don't feel peaceful. I got all the way through this and lo and behold - Yep. Still sad. Still regretful. Still in pain. Still miss him. He's still gone. I learned to shoulder it as a student. Now I will get to learn how to shoulder it as a nurse. I think the big difference this time is that I am pretty confident I can and will. There is a resignation there. I know how to carry it better now and understand it is a life sentence better than I did when I became a nursing student. I also understand better now that the tears and the depression and the darkness enveloping me just stays. Fortunately or unfortunately it will not kill me nor derail me nor change the seasons or phases of the moon. This world is a world without Joseph. And that, to me, is a much sadder world than it was five years ago. I cry for the world and I cry for myself.