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“Next week it’ll be eight months since I signed on for hospice. Does this kind of thing happen very often?” I asked while looping the cannula around my ears and flipping on the switch of the concentrator, its pumping and wheezing sounds filling the quiet of my dining room. Through the panes of the French doors, houseplants greened in the morning sun.

“Sounds like your experience doesn’t correspond to hospice patients you used to see when you were working?” Across from me sat Eunice for our weekly visit, her questioning mine, a technique that had opened out our dialogue at other times. She sensed my impatience with the process.

I nodded, waiting her response, from the heart. For months she had supported my spiritual growth as I moved through my end time flitting by like wind-gentled leaves. I was the lighter because of it, more accepting, most days.

“We occasionally see patients who remain a short time in our care and make their transition.” She thumbed her wooden wedding band: narrow, mocha in color, its circumference engraved with dark squiggles, then added, “However, others remain longer, especially heart patients—up to a year or more. So there’s nothing unusual about the course of your illness, given the drug that’s still working for you—Giving you more time to blog that’s honing your passion for eternal life.”

I sensed she was smiling behind her protective mask, rippled with what looked like clown smiles that jarred the beauty of her own. Still her words countered the tomfoolery of the mask.

More exchanges followed until within me a deeper level of acceptance surfaced: trust the process in its opaqueness, despite subtle worsening symptoms. Again, Eunice nodded, her soft eyes caressing my fresh resolve. How seamlessly she fitted into my world, then withdrew, barefoot, from our experience with the Sacred.

On the other side of change lurks the unknown, at times fraught with crippling fears for most of us.

I still shudder remembering the first wrench: leaving home for the semi-cloistered convent after college. Only the trousseau afforded clues of the lifestyle I was preparing to embrace, and that wasn’t much: linens, toothpaste, rubbers, galoshes, Girl Scout shoes, man-sized handkerchiefs, white nightgowns, etc. Once behind the enclosure, daily changes whittled my identity to the robot-like postulant that I became with nineteen others.

The second wrench was leaving the convent seventeen years later, on my own forthe first time in my life. Helpers showed up precisely when I needed them, but lesserfears still tinged decisions and scrambled my thoughts while moving from city tocity, from job to job, from advanced degree to advanced degree.

The third turn-around was surrendering to my disease of alcoholism and joining Alcoholics Anonymous in 1991. Again, others modeled practicing the 12 Steps until I was willing to practice them myself, and with Higher Power’s help, explore the faulty bedrock of my identity and rip it out. At last, I was becoming my own person.

And now the fourth change—accommodating terminal illness in my lungs within the Unknown, buoyed by the gentle discipline of Chronic Pain Anonymous. To this daily practice, I bring the compass of faith. I’m in good company. In some future not of my devising, this part of my journey will end. In my dreams, however, I am still healthy, still learning.

So like everyone else, I am mortal and show up for each day’s experience.

 

 

“You’re doing very well, Liz, managing your symptoms—and your vital signs are normal,” says Alice my hospice nurse as she folds up the pressure cuff and puts it away. “You know to call anytime you’ve got questions. We’re here to help.” I sit back in my armchair, noting her cheerfulness, her compassionate eyes, her capable hands. My heart brims with gratitude. Her Wednesday visits the past four months have companioned my efforts to remain conscious of my terminal illness.

And even more heartening is learning that we went to the same high school, Villa Duchesne, and that I was a friend with her aunt and deceased uncle, through Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City, Missouri.

Moreover, knowing that Alice will coach me through the loops of ILD with Rheumatoid Arthritis, my terminal disease, allays my terror. In no way can I prepare for this ordeal.

What I can do, though, is live each day to the fullest: blogging the experiences, exercising, eating well, resting, ADLs, praying, and mediating. Daily CPA meetings and phone calls with my sponsor keep me close to the 12 Steps.

And keeping fresh tulips on my dining room table buoys my spirit. All of this is the work of Precious God. There are no words—I’m grateful.

 

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