I imagine she looks like she is dying now…..no one other than family members are allowed in to see her these final days. She was a friend a long time ago, and became more distant over the years, as she fiercely battled stage 4 cancer, undergoing every imaginable type of chemotherapy. Her spouse, also a cancer survivor, gave her constant hope and encouragement to sign up for the next trial, and the next. She was still young and beautiful then, but of course to me I will always imagine her beautiful, since I still visualize her from the first time we met.
I was the nurse, and she was a friend of a patient that I was admitting to hospice. Jill and Beth had met at a cancer support group. Although Jill could eat very little and was in the last 3 weeks of her life, this beautiful person named Beth, like some ornate bird, swooped in with a box of gourmet food and proceeded to fix a plate and engage in a lively conversation. Jill sat in her recliner –her eyes gently closed with a slight smile on her face, as though taking a nap on the beach, listening to children’s laughter, instead of being admitted to hospice on this grey winter day. It was as if happiness walked through the door when Beth did. I was captivated. We all were: by her stunning smile and her excited energy. Later, I found out she was battling her own demons: herself a cancer survivor. Over the days and weeks to follow, she and I became fast friends, as you do when sitting together at a dying person’s bedside.
Years have gone by since then, and Beth and I think of each other but don’t spend time together. I am a little feared- perhaps not the grim reaper himself, but certainly representing hospice: which means to so many people, giving up, and all about the dying. I keep thinking more people are aware that hospice is not just saved for the very end, but provides the team: the people, the resources, and the philosophy of preparing for death. I consider myself more of a marriage planner than a divorce attorney…this is about preparing for the biggest moment of your life…Death. Not about how to get out of the moment unscathed… we will ALL experience this big day.
So I sit with myself, saddened to hear that Beth spent weeks in the hospital having every manner of treatment to stall the tumor growth that was eating away her insides. For many months, the chemotherapy rounds had proved ineffective. At that last hospitalization, according to her spouse, Beth’s doctor fleetingly mentioned hospice. But too late.
She spent days in pain and agitation that a hospice team would have addressed preemptively. She suffered in a vacuum of defeat that a hospice spiritual caregiver might have helped her conquer, having seen so many who had to transition from fighting with every cell in their being to transitioning into peaceful acquiescence. No, hospice was not invited in, to encourage the organizing of details and preparing for the event.
When I spoke to Beth’s husband on the phone, very close to the end of her life, he made the statement, “She asked me a couple nights ago; Where did we go wrong? Why is this happening?” He answered, it was the cancer. I recalled the line in The Yearling…. “Life goes back on you”. It’s not just the cancer, it’s life. It’s now Beth’s big day. I just wish I could have been her wedding planner.