The following is not FACTUALLY accurate. Details have been changed, things deleted, stuff made up, all to protect identity. But it is 100% absolutely true.
Suddenly you were gone
From all the lives
You left your mark upon
I will remember....
- N. Peart
There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live life in two days.
- E. Hemingway
Instinctively, I turned to walk to her room. But she was gone Like most patients, she was only in my life but a brief time. But in the span of a little over a week, a lifetime can be lived, or at least revisited. It makes for an intensity in those few days that makes everyday life pale in comparison. I had rounded on her every morning. Medically. And every afternoon I rounded on her. To listen. To say she had lived a hard life would trivialize it to a cliche. It would also be an attempt to define one solely by what has happened to us. As if our response was irrelevant. Because she also lived a fascinating life. Within her was a resilience I rarely encounter. And also envied. Now that she entered into this final phase, that determination to carry it through until the end became more fierce. Death became not something to cheat or avoid. Neither did it become something to accept and willingly embrace. It became something to conquer. It was as if all the slings and arrows of misfortune were culminating in one final challenge. One final obstacle to overcome. To prove to herself that she was indeed strong enough.
And I saw the effects of that determination ripple through her relationships of those who came to visit. Her iron will, her pride, her self reliance. Contrasted with those who wished to provide comfort, compassion, care. In the face of her loved ones, I could see the hurt it caused those who would be left behind with her memories.
Indeed, it triggered my own memories of my brother. He was not perfect. He didn't always get the choices right. Or, at least what I felt to be right. But I also remember remarking on his stoic response to what life had handed him. It allowed him to continue to fight. And it also was an impediment in his care, especially at the end. I imagined myself in his shoes, to the extent that one's imagination is capable of such feats. And who is to say how any of us would handle such adversity? Those that live in glass houses and all that. Certainly I am not without my own regrets when faced with life and death choices.
It's not that I learned to not judge the patient's choices, though I did learn that. It's not even a question of whether to criticize how someone copes with such choices. Instead, it is recognizing how muddy the waters are. That it is possible to accept and hold paradoxes true, even if for the briefest of times. My patient was coping the best way she knew how with whatever tools that had served her in the past. But neither does that negate the pain experienced by the loved ones at being brushed aside. Perhaps, I wished to find fault in one party. That would make things more palatable. But there was none. Everyone simply was playing the cards dealt to them. It is a messy business, this life and loss.