Of course, in the past few weeks he has been declining and now he doesn’t have the strength to get up. But he did try, anyway.
And of course, he fell.
Dad has always been so independent…wanted to do things his way….so now he is being offered containment. With high rails on the sides, it is his worst nightmare:: a hospital bed.
The guys from hospice took apart his own bed–the same one that I crawled into when I was
young and had nightmares. The same bed where I slept with my mom when he was on a trip. That very same bed that contained a marriage….two marriages.
That very same bed was disassembled and put into the garage, next to the forty years’ worth of
dusty immunological journals and bales of bubble wrap, broken fishing poles and my grandfather’s tools and thousands of pounds of beautiful, precious rocks…some for cutting and polishing and some just to have.
Releasing forty years of medical journals or a few rocks, after all, requires that we open up that hole and make ourselves a bit vulnerable. It requires that we relinquish complete control. But is there anything that could make you feel a greater loss of control than you 'd feel when total strangers disassemble your bed and carry it into the garage, piece by piece, and put something else in your room: something with rails to contain you?
A few days ago a young woman I know suddenly died. At home, just after her children went to school. She didn’t have a hospital bed. No bed. No hospice. No hospital.
The way I see it, a hospital bed means hope. It means that you are privileged to live at least one more day.
When I was five years old I used to go fishing with my father. I was his pal. We would leave very, very early in the morning with a car full of gear, his thermos full of coffee, and a bucket full of worms– or minnows or cheese balls or wheaties balls or whatever folks said was working to entice fish in those days. We would arrive at the lake, the channel, the river, the pond…any and all of them…in the dark, unload some gear and traipse, hand-in-hand, through the chill and the misty morning marsh mud, settling on a spot from which to cast our lines. We would arrive before the light and walk together until we found just the right spot.
I never noticed the chill.
Dad cast out the lines. I watched the bobbers: little red heads going up and down, and
again…and time to pull in the lines…a silver flash. Sunfish! Bluegill! Perch!
I was a great fisherman – for a little girl..
The first time dad was hospitalized he wanted to walk from the car to the hospital together. So I parked and we walked hand in hand towards Admissions. To both of us, at the same time, came the memory of the fishing trips. (We mentioned it to each other just after they took Dad’s blood pressure.) So funny -- because to me, once again I was five, with my hair in pigtails and my father with poles and bucket in one hand and his little daughter in the other. But that time we walked together.
Into the hospital.
When you are fishing, you know, you cannot really tell a fish that it is time to bite the line.
As much as you try…you close your eyes and hope. You call to them in your mind: “C’mon little fishie…c’mon big fishie...come find my line…bite my hook….c’mon…” and if I were a really good little fishie I would swim really really fast -- in the other direction. And yet, we try to get the fish to bite...that is why we devise such ingenious inventions as Velveeta cheese balls and Wheaties balls and multicolored lures…
Somehow we delude ourselves into thinking that we can control the fish.
That we can control the outcome.
But what is the thing that we really love so much about fishing? Is it the reminder that we are not in control? Is it the understanding that you are there, still as the earth, part of the wind? You and your line in the early light, in the morning sun…quiet, quiet.
And if the fish comes, then it comes.
It is the beautiful reminder that it is not anything that we really do. It just happens.
So yesterday my Dad got this hospital bed. Last night, during the night, he got out of bed, against strict orders. To do this, he had to climb over the railings. He climbed the railings, this time in the dark.
He really doesn’t like to be contained.
My father had someone dial my number. He said, “It will be soon now. I know. I have been called.” Everything is clear now. I am not afraid.”
If you have ever fished, then you know that sometimes you wait and wait and wait in the early dawn, when the fish are hungry and jumping but none come to your hook. Not one. So you leave, you pack up your things, you trudge back with no fish in the net. And a bit of a hollow feeling of loss. Or perhaps no feeling of loss.
Sometimes you really do need to accept that it is not all in your control.
To my father, needing palliative care, having the hospital bed arrive, these were all losses to him because it meant that dad could not heal himself…the thing that he wanted to do most. To dad, the hospital bed meant total loss of control…. It meant failure.
But when it was time…when there was no more time...there was only pain and fear.
In order to actually die, though, you need to be able to wait with your line in the water…wait with your eyes closed in the morning light…still to the chill…waiting.
You cannot call a fish to the line and neither can you call death to your door.
Death arrives when she arrives.
She whispers to you, “All is okay. No need to be afraid. All is clear. It is almost time.” And when she comes, you don’t notice the chill.
You walk with her, hand in hand…towards the lightening sky.