It is one of the most important times of our lives and there is no instruction manual.
We should have talked it over…but what good would it have done? Grief is a subject so individual that everyone has to find their own way through it. As a hospice nurse, it is part of a family care plan to discuss grief. Your patients just want to know they will be made comfortable and that is an easy promise to make with our variety of drugs, help with everyday needs and other comfort measures. But even the person dying, no matter their age, worries aloud about how the surviving family will handle their being gone.
When you are a family member, usually there is a bit of fantasy or denial when you see someone you love have good days.
“Maybe it is a miracle? Do you think that the last chemo treatment has kicked in?”
That is what Rosalind Eaton asked me a number of times over the four months I spent helping to take care of her husband, Harry.
I know I said, “Let’s just enjoy these good days and help Harry do what ever he wants”.
The following is Rosemary’s story of coping after the relatives, neighbors with casseroles and constant phone calls dwindle away. None of us has the magic words to fix a grieving person.
Rosalind fights with the sheets. Since Harry closed his eyes for the final time, nights are her enemy. Their bed recalls nights of talking quietly, cuddling, years of sex, or just reaching out to touch him. It mocks her.
About four, she gives up trying to sleep. She makes a full pot of coffee and puts two cups out. Harry’s is stained. She had shaped it lovingly on the potter’s wheel and painted his family’s Crest on it. He was proud of it and always used it in place of china.
She pretends he is sharing breakfast like the last forty years. She reads the paper to him and offers her opinions. She knows it is fantasy but no one need know.
Chores give her a sense of purpose. She is almost finished cleaning out his closet, dividing clothes into piles to give to charities or throw away. Of course, each piece of clothing comes with memories about the last time he wore it. She saves the outfit from the last time they went out for dinner. She allows herself to smile, the two dancing to "You Send Me". He had cupped her bottom and she had swatted at his hands. He nibbled at her earlobe."Just wait till we get home, babe".Good memories!
She has hired workers to come in and paint the bedroom colors of peach and cream, a definite change from the striped wallpaper.
The days go by slowly, an occasional neighbor drops by and notes to write. In the afternoon, she works in the garden, which she has always loved. Her flower beds were the envy of their neighbors. She has really let them go this last year. After a while of digging in the dirt, she pictures a coffin and the grave.
She tries so hard to tire herself out with housework. She eats a microwave meal usually and then finds a mystery movie. Having a hard time concentrating makes reading a novel impossible.
A glass of warm milk, after the last newscast, she climbs into bed and the agony begins.
His pillow faintly smells of cherry pipe tobacco, cologne and brandy but offers no comfort. She should have gotten something from her family doctor to help. Hospice took away all of Harry's medications.
One morning, cemetery worker Stan Fahn is making his rounds, cleaning up homes of the departed. This morning he is not alone.
There is Rosalind Eaton, sitting on a quilt by her husband’s grave. She offers Stan a cup of coffee out of a thermos.
Stan has seen this before, so he smiles but shakes his head no. He has work to do and if he begins to talk to family, it will never get done.
Rosalind smiles, “I slept like a baby last night”.
By Kathie Stehr
August 10, 2021
word count 657