Day 2: Standing outside a closed door for the first time. Trying to knock on my first door, but having trouble getting my hand to obey my brain. I repeat to myself, “This won’t be easier tomorrow. This won’t be easier tomorrow.” Until I knock.
The first door doesn’t open. The second door hides someone who doesn’t want to talk to me. The third door leads to an awkward conversation, which turns into a meaningful conversation, which turns into a friendship.
Day 4: I am asked to go in and hold the hand of a very sick woman. She can’t speak, and she can’t hear me, but I read a psalm anyway. In the end I just hold her hand, look into her blue eyes and smile, letting a hope that I know can only be from Christ sit on my face.
The next day, I come into work and find out she has died. I might have been the last person to spend quality time with her.
Two days later, nearly the same thing happens.
I don’t know these women’s stories, or families, or lives. I can’t even make their funerals. So many others have watered, planted, harvested, mostly before I was even born. It’s a terrifying privilege to have those moments with them, something I couldn’t arrange if I wanted to, and that it’s no use trying to live up to.
Week 3: Every morning this week, I have to peel a miserable, sick, crying baby off my hip and hand her to my capable but exhausted sister. We find out on Wednesday that she has a UTI. She is just so miserable, and I know separation anxiety is part of her misery. Am I prolonging her illness by continuing to leave?
A week later I sit down with a lovely lady with dementia who is starting to cry. She mentions her daughter and I immediately start crying with her.
Yesterday: I am told (not in so many words) that a lovely man, with whom I have had two meaningful conversations, would rather watch the weather channel than talk to me. I giggle to myself when I leave. We all have introverted days.
Today: I have my best visit yet with a woman I heartily enjoy (thanks not a little to a visit with the invigorating M), but who seems to be alienating everyone from her. The tragedy of dementia’s encroach is slowly dawning on me. I don’t want to accept that this new friend is self-sabotaging not because of a spiritual or psychological ailment that I can help, but because of a progressive and terminal disease that has already diminished her mind beyond recovery.
All I can offer you, friends, is these snippets. CPE is as relentless as it is rewarding. I am learning to go to new lengths to take care of myself when I need to, because there is precious little breathing room. I fantasize about having enough time to do things like vacuum and bake. I went three days without knitting a stitch before I even noticed. This will end, but I can only guess (and hope) that the life I get back at the end of these ten weeks will be a somewhat different one.