I came home last night after another day of hospice work tired and worn.
The emotion always seems to hit me after I leave a death, after hugging the family, after calling everyone who needs to know, and after all the paperwork has been turned in at the office.
Afterwards, my thoughts take a different shape. I think about breath and the still silence in the room after it is gone, and I think about the difference that I have seen in some rooms, full of peace and tears and quiet, versus others, full of bargaining and fighting and struggle. Fear of death seems to be a part of what makes these scenes so different from each other.
I had a patient once who would ask me with every visit, “What do you think about god?” She told me that she was convinced that there would not be enough space for her soul in the universe after she died, and that she didn’t think that God was big enough to hold “all the souls of the people and animals that have ever existed.” She pictured all of those who have passed floating somewhere in the dark, alone.
I told her that I’m pretty sure that God is way bigger than we can ever imagine. If He did create us, then He can contain us.
In her mind loneliness was large enough to swallow all of us whole, but Love was not. In my mind, Love was present, ready, and waiting to embrace each one.
The fear of being alone is what makes or breaks it for me in the places where my patients are dying. When there are people gathered, loving on those who are leaving and those who are left behind, it changes the atmosphere of the place. When there is no one there to whisper “I love you” and “I am here,” or when those gathered beg the one who is leaving to stay I feel the weight in my chest.
Sometimes I think that we fear dying because we have never experienced the crushing magnitude of Love, or we have experienced it but never let it IN. We have never let Love make us feel small, and so we wonder where we will go when we die- where we will find space.
For me death is a reminder to live for the kind of Love that makes me smaller and softer.
Maybe I’m just practicing. I’m practicing living on a diminishing scale; less of me and more of the mystery, less control and more surrender, less defense and more vulnerability. I am not good at these things, which is why I need the practice.
My hospice days cue me into my role in life, which I believe is a grand rehearsal. I will die someday, mortality is a reality for me as well, so every day is a precious opportunity to practice.