During the early hours four patients died; three more passed around noon and one, who’d come via the emergency department, died within an hour of admission. All this on a floor of 17 beds. Everyone stepped up: nurses, volunteers, physiotherapist, managers, housekeepers, physicians, unit clerks … caring first for patients, then friends and families, then each other. Deep bows of appreciation to a marvellous team!
Sat vigil with a man who’d undergone a traumatic 24 hours prior to death. Straightening the bedding, I arranged his still-soft hands across his chest, spread a knitted blanket and placed a red-and-white carnation, stroked his hair and felt the warmth of his skin. All of a sudden, I felt the presence of my long-gone dad at the bedside. Moved to tears, I chanted the Sanskrit words of “Ga-tey, Ga-tey …” to bring blessing on fathers and sons everywhere (for more on this practice scroll to Sept. 3).
A little later someone beckoned me to a sobbing huddle in the hallway, suggesting I act as “our chaplain.” Intuitive wisdom told me to hold back. Sensing the raw emotions caused by death’s arrival, I knew to let mourners mourn on their own. When I did enter the room I met the deceased’s companion gathering her things. Oddly at ease amid the commotion, even smiling, he explained that ”she’s free from pain now. I’m happy for her.” Laying a gentle hand on his arm, I just stood so as not to intrude on this leave-taking. When I opened a window, he nodded in agreement: his friend’s spirit was free to travel.
Much hugging among the staff all day long: holding, comforting, encouraging. Light banter and occasional laughter helped defuse tension. One nurse (who’d just pronounced her second death in half an hour) wondered what I’d be writing in the blog that night. Just this, I tell her now, fragments and impressions.
“Words can name and create meaning, bringing experience to expression and understanding. However, they never capture precisely what is. We can get lost in words. They can separate us from experience, imposing alien meaning on it instead of being congruent with it” (Johanson & Kurtz). And the Tao, written in China around 500 B.C.E., tells us that–
My teachings are older than the world
how can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.
sources: Johanson, G. & Kurtz, R. (1991). Grace unfolding. New York: Belltower, p. 1. Mitchell, S. (trans.) (1988). Tao te Ching. New York: HarperPerennial, p. 70.