|Preparing to Journey. acrylic intuitive painting|
In my first year as a hospice nurse I was assigned to a particularly difficult scenario.
One of the most beautiful things about hospice care, in general,
is that most organizations work within a very holistic approach
– care is not just offered to the dying patient, but to the whole family unit
as they experience the illness and loss of their loved one.
While this is a wonderful service for the family,.
it can also, at times, be one of the more challenging aspects of hospice
from the viewpoint of the healthcare provider team.
The patient I am remembering was only a few years older than me at the time,
and had been fighting a nasty, painful, messy cancer for years.
He had young children and a young wife.
As well as a whole family who spent a lot of time with him,
without ever being able to openly, honestly acknowledge that this time
he was, indeed, dying.
He knew it.
I knew it.
And time was ticking fast.
I wrote and shared a poem about this not too long ago,
but what I'm sharing today is another piece of that story.
As healthcare providers in end-of-life care,
we try to gently bring the family to an awareness and acknowledgment
of what is about to happen, in a timely fashion.
In other words, what is going to happen to the body,
what might be happening to the spirit (within the context of their own understanding),
and how they can bear witness (or not)
in a way that will meet their own needs for closure and comfort.
Ideally, many of these things are talked about before they actually arise, in preparation.
Of course, all of this comes along with a whole bunch of education
regarding disease process, the dying process, the grieving process, medications,
making arrangements, and how to provide care
and find resources for equipment and services that are needed....
There were many times as a hospice nurse that I felt overwhelmed,
and just unsure if I was going to be able to communicate effectively
and offer just the right level of compassion and space
that each patient and family member needed.
I practiced a lot of faith.
And a lot of flying by the seat of my pants.
Because you never know what family dynamic you're going to find
when you walk into someone's house.
As you can probably imagine,
hospice care is a buffet of spiritual practice opportunities and experiences.
It's big in that way.
I guess that's partially why many people refer to it as a calling.
I certainly felt like I was called to spend time serving in hospice as I did.
I come from that experience having been profoundly changed in how I approach... ...everything.
With the family of this particular patient,
I knew that some very hard things needed to be said,
and that there was no one who was going to do it if I didn't.
And I didn't know how or what words to say in the way that they needed.
I just didn't.
I had tried to gently bring up the hard stuff with this family in many ways before,
but no one took the bait
(there was such resistance and fear for them, their grief was so very deep),
and I had run out of my tried and true scripts
about the imminent death experience.
They just weren't getting it.
Now, it would have been relatively easy for some nurses, at this point,
to just have gone through the motions, kept the patient physically comfortable
and ignored the fact that the family (wanted to) believe
that a miracle was going to save this man who was wasting away before them.
After all, I had already tried to be straight with them.
And I certainly did not want to be in the position to shatter faith in miracles.
I guess I'm just not that kind of person.
I knew it would be so hard, but I also knew in the pit of my essence
that this was my role for this family, whether I liked it or not.
That the importance of helping them face this far exceeded my own discomfort.
When I pulled up in my car on the last day I would see this patient,
my gut was in a twisted torsion of churning
as I prepared the wound dressing supplies to take into the house.
My mouth was dry and I just felt sick myself
at having to face the stare of my patient again, who was such a tender man,
and who seemed to be pleading with me to get through to them,
just by the intensity of his stare.
He was already walking between the worlds for a few days by that time.
We learn what this looks like quickly in hospice care.
I knew this would likely be his last day breathing.
I knew his wife needed to be told that, despite her blatant denial –
so that she could say what she needed to and he could do the same.
Or her grieving post-death would be so much harder....
I remember sitting back in my car for a minute,
submerged in the suffocating southern heat of October,
and I closed my eyes to pray
in a way I hadn't for a long, long time.
Pray, not meditate or find affirmations.
Not just clear my mind and find an upbeat outlook so I could get through the visit
and get on with the rest of my day.
Connect with Creator, opening myself to the source of Compassion
for this family, this suffering, and my own feeling of powerlessness.
Open myself to Communication in a language that I didn't have to understand.
Because I didn't know what else to do for this patient, this wife, this family.
I had, indeed, been losing sleep myself at night over this case,
this story unfolding,
and my own growing pains within it.
My prayer that day went something like this,
“Creator, Great Spirit,
I offer myself to you
that you may use me as you see fit
to best serve the needs of these people for their highest good.
Please bring just the right words in just the right way
into my heart and from my lips,
in a way that they can receive it with full knowing of your grace.
Please guide my hands with gentle strength and dexterity
to offer care to his body in just the way it is needed.
Allow me to have the courage and strength
to be the message and witness they need in presence, word and deed.
I am yours.”
And then I went inside.
I cared for his wound for the final time.
I spoke with the patient privately, who told me he knew he was dying
and asked me what else to expect
and thanked me for looking him in the eye and being honest.
He asked me to tell his wife that it would be today or tomorrow.
So I did – with certain gentleness.
And she was mad at me.
She wouldn't look at me.
She cried. And cried and cried.
And then went to her husband.
And then I spoke up to the group of family members on the porch
and offered to answer any questions.
And there were some. About what to expect. What it would look like.
So I answered and left lots of space.
I also offered some sharing about feelings that might come up -
mostly that they're all perfectly normal and OK,
even the ones we sometimes think we shouldn't feel at the loss of a loved one -
Then the family began to talk of some of their favorite memories with the patient.
And his mother gave me a hug before I left.
I got back in my car and closed my eyes again
sinking into my own breath
like I'd just come up for air from a chaotic foreign sea
into my own safe sanctuary.
In my first prayer, I had prayed by opening myself up to a Higher Power's will,
by turning on, within me, a willingness to Listen to that flow for the needs of others.
And to be quite honest,
I had floated through that extremely difficult visit
with an ease I never expected to feel.
(Almost as if) I was carried through it.
(Almost as if) I was a channel for the expression of healing potential.
(Almost as if) I was a witness not only to the family,
but to myself,
When I got back in my car, I prayed again with that breath.
In this prayer,
I just said
Since that day, when I step into a position of holding space for others,
with intentional awareness,
my prayers before and after
go something just like that.
That's the heart of the intention I set.
Because it works for me.
That's how I begin and end a prayer painting for others...
There are also some other motions I choose for my process,
some reflections and questions that guide those choices,
and in the next and final part of this little mini-series story of sharing into my own process,
I'll offer you some avenues of consideration
that may help you develop a process of prayer art making that is unique to you.
As always, thank you for being here.
... to be continued ...
If a question about creating prayer art comes to mind while you read the series, please leave a comment and I will try to address it in the final post.
in love and light,