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“I’ve never died before! I don’t know how to do this!” said Miki, slumped in a wheelchair at the table, her breathing supported by two linked concentrators whirring away like an intrusive helper. Lung cancer had created this dependence, her bloated cheeks bearing the indentations of the nasal tubing.

Her complaints drew compassion from her friends who had been visiting her in the nursing home since her admission, months before. Miki, the children’s reader at the city library, began to resemble one of her waifs—a wisp of hair emerging from her red knitted cap like a lost puppy. That was in 2016.

In my present circumstances, I think of Miki, of her initial resistance to the dose of morphine offered by the hospice nurse, of her transition, of the joyful funeral at St. Pius V, followed by lunch and memories with friends. Unlike, Miki, I’ve had almost two years managing my terminal disease and living with its culmination in the death of my body—sometime in the future, unknown to anyone.

I only have this twenty-four hours in which to breathe life into acceptance prayer and meditation as my energy wanes and I need more help. Yet, I’m still focused on my care plan, alternating blog composition, significant reading, and exercise, with resting, and listening to classical music. Difficulty making speech shortens phone contacts and visits. Tomorrow will be another opportunity to grow spiritually, if granted.

I learned much from Miki, ever mindful of her help.

“Here, I brought this for you to wear. It’s cozy and warm—One of our volunteers made it for our patients. They’re always doing such nice things for us,” said Christina, the CNA assigned to me for the night. Then, she handed me a white flannel gown with prints of small red cardinals perched upon bare branches.

Because last Friday night’s storm had knocked out the electrical power in my home, its restoration being uncertain, I obtained a respite bed at Evelyn’s House, the BJC freestanding hospice facility where I availed myself of their oxygen and nebulizer treatments for my lungs. I hoped to make my transition from this facility and welcomed the experience of its services. I was not disappointed.

Seasoned and skilled staff, still masked for protection from Covid, welcomed me and promptly came to my assistance when needed. Their responses to my questions orientate me to the facility and my private guest room with its tasteful framed prints affording colors of the outdoors. A large window and a glass-paneled door looked out upon the private patio with an iron table and chairs, a bird-feeder, a lush meadow with four-year old-trees, the age of this facility. Two fauns spent much of Saturday afternoon with me.

Covid restrictions kept me in my room where I continued my exercises, read 1776, the historical novel by David McCullough, and prayed for those around me. Not a sound from anywhere did I hear, those twenty-four hours I was there.

And during the night, the cardinal-print nightgown contoured my body with cushiony warmth. I’m grateful for my stay at Evelyn’s House, there being only sixteen guest rooms for the use of the entire BJC system. 

Life is like a bend in the road, each turn challenging our mettle: from learning to suckle at the breast to inhaling our last breath.

It’s arduous work living within the approach of the bend, not fully knowing, but still trudging ahead. Met with welcomes and rejections, with health and sickness, with creative work and drudgery, wounds scrape encrusted barnacles from our dishonesty. We learn about humility, and serving others becomes more important than living within self-imposed limits. We learn that we are not God.

To our amazement, decades of life pass. Resilience orchestrates a lightshow upon these accomplished risk-takers who developed their full birthright. Such live within our midst and fill us with gladness, despite their slow footfalls and vintage clothing from another age.

For them, the bend in the road has become nearly full circle; their joy, deep as they make their life review, embroidered by multiple life-turns. Their transition toward the last turn follows, a cinch. 

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