Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What if you thought you were going to die today?

I was teaching today at my hospice agency. I am actually assigned to teach them how to use our mobile-enabled electronic medical record, but I can't help but slip the cork on a bottle of hospice here and there. Today I talked about the difficulty of hospice work and its rewards.

The difficulty is all the loss. I am an expert relationship loser. I have meaningful closure rituals, I stay present. Still, it hurts, and the only way to live with pain is to hurt. It's finite for each loss, I get over it, but I have a lot of losses.

On the other hand, I get to relate to people who live now, today, with a lot more intensity because death is perched on a bookshelf in every room. This makes relationships come alive with compassion and a quiet sense of shared joy in every breath. This is a lot like life was for me when I was a neonatal intensive care nurse and I went to a lot of births, particularly high-risk births. There's something special about my experience there that is difficult to name.

So, I essentially gave that same talk, and the room got very quiet. I quickly returned to the subject, because we had work to do, but maybe it was a little too quickly. It seems that way now, I guess there's something there I was avoiding.

Anyway, I was thinking about all that tonight, maybe because I am still dealing with the financial details of my father's death last May, trying to see that his wishes, as I best understand them, are respected. I mailed off some documents today to my lawyer that are going to cause a significant corner to be turned in that process towards some sense of understanding and agreement among the interested parties. I've been avoiding that too, I guess because I wanted to believe that I would be taken care of by my family, that his wishes would be respected without my self-advocacy. That's a loss, too.

So, I put myself back in that room and I thought to myself, how would I hava acted differently? What would I have done differently knowing today is my last?

I would have asked Zoe to dance.

Zoe is a nurse practicioner in my class, Puerto Rican / Portugese family, who is just lovely. She's physically attractive, nice, kind, concerned and intelligent. She has an accent that makes her speech musical. She smiles a lot.

I actually would have predicted that my fantasy for the final day of my life would be more x-rated, but it's not. I'd really want to dance with her, to move with her as man with woman, sure there's an erotic element, but there's also an artistic element, the beauty of dance is for it's own sake. Dancing needs no agenda.

Sex would be messy and insecure, plus we'd need to be alone, and it's unpredictable with a new partner. I've only got one shot at this, I'm going to ask her to dance. I don't want some huge involved relationship, I'm dying, remember, I just want to know her scent, feel her warmth and notice what's unique about her eyes.

There's something to this "live every day as your last" stuff.

So, think about it. Imagine that you know you're going to die comfortably a day. You can't tell anybody, they won't believe you. It's too late to travel anywhere or plan some big event, you just have to live the rest of your life in the next day. What would you do? Would you really stay home from work? Don't think so fast, really let the scenario settle in before you answer any questions.

Then, ask yourself, why did I not do those things today?

They are important, you had the opportunity. What are you waiting for?

Because you think I know when you're going to die?

Really? I wonder what Crash thought.

So, hug those kids, write that letter, say those words, whatever. That's living.

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