Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Meaning of Miracles

I sit here this Easter morning reflecting, as I have always done on Easter morning since Joseph died. This is my church. This is my sunrise service.

I have the benefit of a beautiful bay window at the front of my house. I can see through it clearly from Joe's chair, where I sit while he snoozes. The dawn filters through in hazy reflections of blue-violet light, seeming to highlight the fresh green growth that will be this year's set of leaves. It is overcast and humid and birds are singing their morning Hallelujiah. I cannot imagine any church service feeling more close to God than this right now. It is like reflecting on a coming journey home, like missing a place I have known and quietly accepting I will not be there for some time to come.

This year has me reflecting on miracles. Obviously, for those of us of Christian faith, this is a day of the acknowledgement of the potential for miracles right here in this world we live in. For some time after Joseph's death I found this day to be something mighty to cling to, bittersweet, almost desperate. This year is quieter inside. There is more a sense of "yes, I believe" than a sense of "Dammit, this had BETTER be true".

This was a challenging week for me at work. I found myself caring for a family who had suffered an incredible loss and were facing a very uncertain future. Some members of the family were quietly coming to terms with the situation as it was. Others were fervently decking themselves and the patient's room with religious symbols and girding their loins to battle for their miracle with every ounce of energy in them. I found myself struggling - struggling on how to best support this family. The miracle would be very unlikely. The truth would be very painful. It felt like a spiderweb of critical negotiations, being supportive without offering false hope. Offering hope but not imply promises that would lead to broken hearts and a feeling of betrayal later on. Being practical without seeming to condemn or criticize. It is a tight rope and it wraps around my heart with a tension that is at once unbearable and yet essential. It is the very depth of God's work. It is heavy, exhausting, fraught with emotional landmines that could blow both them or me apart.

One of the most difficulty and yet most necessary parts of being an RN - the ability to evaluate oneself so as to provide the best care in the moment for one's patients with clear recognition of personal beliefs and prejudices that might impair the ability to give the patient and family what they need at the time. It is not unusual to have families react during illness in dramatic ways and it is not unusual at all to be pushed out of one's comfort zone in providing care during these extreme times. What is a normal work day for me is may at times be, in fact, a massive shift in the universe for the patients and families I care for. Remembering this fact is not always easy and at times living it is completely draining. And witnessing the family going through the bittersweet dance of goodbye is like wading into a quagmire of personal memories. Those memories pull and suck at me and I constantly guard against the undertow that turns this away from being about the family I am helping, that whispers darkly back toward my own experiences. I find the fight fulfilling, the flexing of a muscle that grows stronger every day. But in these situations, I flex it to exhaustion.

What is the meaning of a miracle anyway? For many years I have a deep, unseated anger tucked behind a curtain in my mind. I hate hearing people credit God for saving their loved one. It automatically implies He chose not to save mine and the jealousy that roars inside me is a dark, all encompassing fire. I have learned to get around this by learning to pray for peace. For understanding. For acceptance. For grace. Oh how often I have prayed for grace!! I pray for this more than anything else anymore, because I find it is almost always granted to me. I may not be able to influence the outcome of any one situation. But if I carry grace within me, I always have something to give. And the only balm I have found for the loss of my child, that raw internal hole, is the ability to give. How amazing it is to me, that this ultimate loss is what fueled my ability to break free of total selfishness and catalyzed in me both an ability and a desire to do something better with myself. Is that not a miracle, in its own way? Was I not healed, in a sense?  The darkest and least grateful parts of me have been rearranged into something that feels right inside myself. Humble and yet strong. Tentative and yet sure.

Who am I to judge whether another person should pray for their miracle? I cannot always be a vessel to make that happen, and it grieves me inside. When people are at the desperate door of loss and change, anything that does not forward their broken, last ditch efforts to prevent the loss or change comes to be seen as part of the cause. This is a part of my job I find hard to swallow and always will. It does not matter what my intent is to a broken, desperate soul. All that matters is whether I have saved. And I sadly do not have that power. I am not a savior. I am learning to forgive myself for that and doing so has required that I learn to define myself by myself, not by the vision of others. I can love them, do the best I can with all I am, give them my broken, tender heart through my actions and my burgeoning skills and competence....never have it be enough, simply because there isn't enough...not in all the world. The end comes to all in its time. The best I can do is stand ready to serve.

I do not know how hard I will fight when my own time comes. I like to contemplate in these modern days of my soul something beyond this to which I may return - something familiar and beckoning, a destination in the future that I am traveling toward. A long journey home. Until then, I pray for wisdom that I may assist others through the crossroads of their lives that land them in my lap. I pray for peace. I pray for courage. I pray for self forgiveness and I pray for self knowledge, self reflection. I pray for grace. I pray. That in and of itself is a miracle.

Happy Easter everyone.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It Comes So Slow ....

So I have not just dropped off this blog; I seem to have completely dropped from my life in a sense. I do not do very much these days. I go to work and am the nurse I wanted to be. I am learning every single day and the relationships I am forming at work are vastly diverse and satisfying. Learning to mingle idealism with realism is a bit exhausting, but thus far the negotiation has not been as hard as many other events in my life and I feel good when I am there. Well. Most days. The universe still likes to kick my ass now and then.

I have taken to reading things written by nurses - everything I can get my hands on. I like Chicken Soup for the Nurses Soul and all kinds of publications with all kinds of views. I have been reading a book written by a critical care nurse in her first year of nursing (and feeling no small measure of envy over her courage in writing it) and enjoying her newbie views on caring for her patients. Two nights ago the chapter took the reader through a patient newly diagnosed with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) and I read it with great interest and a weird sense of inner pride. I knew both the official names and the nicknames of the chemo and I knew what the nicknames for the different phases of therapy meant. I grew pensive as the writer described her sense of inner angst for the patient, who had yet to realize how hard the leukemia journey is, who was full of vigor and determination and combating fear with epithets of inner strength. I grew sleepy eyed after a bit though and I dog-eared the page and turned out my light. Joe had stayed up for a while and I was alone in the dark, which is so very rare. I am almost never alone anymore it seems sometimes. And this rumble started deep in my gut, far from any digestive process, far from where I breathe....and it erupted from me in a low, mournful cry. I cried for that wonderful son I named Joseph, whose presence remains burned in my mind, for the fact that the names of chemotherapy are any part of the memories I have of him or that the suffering the nurse referenced and pitied her patient for had been any part of his life at all. I cried for my continued need to cover up, hide, bury this grief and I cried for my inability to release it and live without it. I cried for how long it has been since I have seen Joseph and for how old and yellowed the memories are becoming, day by day, year by year. I cried for Nick's 18th birthday and his coming activities for his senior year that will culminate in his graduation and my internal sense of out-of-orderness that causes, the trigger it is for more fear of loss, for having to let go, for all the wishes I had for him as a child that he did not get due to his brothers being so ill. I cried and I cried and I cried, shaking the bed like a child too tired to cope with the day anymore....and I do not remember stopping crying. Before long the alarm was going off and royal blue scrubs were picked from the dresser and coffee was burning my throat. I scarcely remembered the crying for a time, but the ill advised attempt to put eye liner on my swollen upper lids that morning that reminded me, my mind searching out why I would be so puffy, then remembering as if startled. I think of Joseph every single day, but most days it is just a thought, like touching a rock in my pocket. I don't always, in fact rarely these days, take it out and examine it.

As I put on my make up and screwed my hair around to some semblance of presentability, light tapping sounded on the window's glass. The world was still dark and I could not see outside at all, but it pattered in a whisper against the pane, waving in and out as sleet does when carried on brisk winds. Pandora began playing Melissa Etheridge's "The Letting Go" and I grew quiet, my hurried routine slowed for a moment; I closed my eyes, closed my mind and recieved that tiny gift. By the time I started the car, it had all turned to rain and nobody at work mentioned any sleet, just the nip and the cold in the air. And then the patients were present and the medications needed fetching and dosing, the night nurses relieved to see me and the day scooting by with lightening speed as it usually seems to do. Just that fast, that deep, intense whisper in my heart of a pain that lives deep and low within me, as much a part of my personality and viewpoints now as any other thing that has shaped me growing to my mid life. It comes so slow.....the letting go. Letting Go