On the Other Side of the Bed

It’s not like being a hospice worker gives you extra protection from death. Some time ago, a recently retired hospice nurse became one of my patients. Her colleagues from her former place of employment were in the room during one of my visits there. They were chatting away about this or that approach to treatments for her discomfort, and she responded as if she were part of an impromptu interdisciplinary team meeting. Perhaps she felt almost like she had gone back to work, excepting the technical detail that the object of the discussion was  herself.

What was it like for her to be on the other side of the bed so to speak? How did her years of experience being on a first-name basis with death influence how she looked upon her own upcoming rendezvous with it? One way to find out was to ask her. But would curiosity kill the chaplain? Would she chew me out? I took my chances, because as I conversed with this cheerful woman, I sensed she half believed her new status was just a role play. (Training in our profession includes role playing that we are patients.) I asked, “How is it different going from being a hospice nurse to a hospice patient?”

Chuckling as if to humor me with some more play acting, she replied, “I now view all the people I know, all the people in the world, with more compassion.” Hard to resist printing such a lovely and thought-provoking response in a blog called offbeat compassion.

Feeling compassion as we take sorrowful leave takings in our lives is a way to prolong the vividness and “here-ness” of what we are departing from. It softens the final cutting way from those things, people and experiences that we must relinquish through choice or, at least in the final instance, through necessity. Her answer is yet another reminder that we can still access this loving feeling  and enhance the here and now way before we must book passage for elsewhere.

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3 thoughts on “On the Other Side of the Bed

  1. Jacob Staun says:

    Beautiful and right on the mark! Thank you.

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  2. Krista D Lai says:

    “It softens the final cutting way from those things, people and experiences that we must relinquish through choice or, at least in the final instance, through necessity. Her answer is yet another reminder that we can still access this loving feeling and enhance the here and now way before we must book passage for elsewhere.”
    This is so lovely. I feel like you could say the same thing for Forgiveness, which is something I think about a lot. Sometimes I feel like I am in a constant state of trying to “hack” forgiveness… as if just seeing it differently or understanding how it works would make it easier to do. Of course forgiveness seems to require compassion. They say that being estranged from loved ones is one of those things you regret on your deathbed. Perhaps meditating on compassion can help us understand forgiveness and be healed. Thanks for your wonderful work!
    Best, Krista (www.kristadedricklai.com)

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    • Forgiveness is an infinitely complex topic.Sometimes estrangement,sadly enough,is necessary for self-protection. I mean one can get past the anger and still heal from the hurt and look at the offender with compassion without having to offer forgiveness. Here is a dramatic example: suppose someone at random kills a loved one of yours. Without forgiving the killer, you can insist that he get a fair trial and be treated humanely in prison. Perhaps you will feel estranged from someone on your deathbed, but you might not necessarily regret it. The alternative might have been to suffer cruel behavior on their part. Thus this matter, as you can see, is very involved. Let me know what you think.

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