This letter was to be in my memoir, being published in 2023, but it had to be shelved. So I share it with you here. My memoir includes a few letters to my mother, who died when I was six years old.
Dear Eva, dear mother,
I’m sitting at the side of a dying man in a Hospice Care Center in Connecticut. My first volunteer Hospice experience. I wonder why death draws me, and realize, of course, it’s because of your death. Oh, how different it would be if I were older when you died and knew what I know now.
After weeks of intense training about death and dying and caregiving, I walk into a patient’s room slightly anxious and detached. My feet tingle from nervousness. I only know the man’s first name. I learn he has no family to visit him. This man whose hand I now hold – a stranger – could have been an abuser, a rapist, a woman hater. I think of the negative as I’m a new attorney working with abused women and family issues. But at this moment, I only see a vulnerable human being, afraid to die, needing someone by his side.
As I sit with him, I rub his right arm gently, almost sensuously, his eyes mostly closed. I touch his unassuming humanity. He smiles appreciatively. His head moves around, somewhat out of control, yet I know his mind is working, questioning. I presume he’s unable to speak. Yet he suddenly opens his eyes and utters: “Where am I? Have I gone?” I touch his arm gently and say, “I’m here.” He softly thanks me.
His glasses are on. A sign of hopeful life. What will he again read or see? The breathing tube lays on his chest, ready for another struggle with life. Bruising from needles in his arm.
He’s a large man whose life I know nothing about. I haven’t seen his chart – the chart that gives a sliver of a full life. I wonder if he’ll be here when I return next week.
I unexpectedly realize I’m holding his fear in my hand, probably the same fear you had on your deathbed.
I appreciate we are not enemies, no longer strangers. Just humans living with the same doubts, worries, and uncertainties of this life. In many ways probably more alike than unalike.
Earlier I helped clean and turn another man, his skin like a baby’s softness. I was somewhat alienated from him – until he smiled. The smile made him real, not an anonymous body anymore. I wanted to help relieve his pain. How does a nurse handle this every day?
There is a woman dying next door. Her family won’t let her go peacefully. They talk superficially. They don’t want to, or cannot, understand. They are more alienated from someone they know than I am from a stranger.
Dear mother, I think of Dad’s fear and dread in losing you, his sitting with you in the hospital, and, as well, not knowing how to be a caregiver to two young children.
I wish I were able to go back in time and change your dying experience. But now with every Hospice person I sit with, you are my center, my calm, my trust.
©Roberta Kuriloff 2022