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“They want us to wear masks when we see patients—as a precaution,” she said, her brown eyes warming as she pulled open the screen door and stepped inside. It was Kassie, the nurse practitioner, come to evaluate my continued participation in hospice, per the Medicare guidelines. She had called earlier. “I’m glad to meet you, Liz. Alice tells me how well you’re doing—you lead the way.”

Still dizzy from the nebulizer treatment, I took slow deliberate steps supported by my cane toward the dining room table and sat down. Instead of a computer, Kassie withdrew a yellow pad from her case, began questioning my symptoms, then added them to the penciled notes she’d taken from my chart. “Now, let me listen to your lungs—Yes, lots of crackles as I suspected—still yellow when you cough it up?” I nodded, covering my mouth and leaned back in my chair.

“And no change in the measurement of your arm since last time,” she added collapsing the tape measure with slim fingers. “Still 19—from my findings, Liz, you’re still eligible for hospice.” I breathed easier, glad for Alice’s and Eunice’s guidance.

As Kassie prepared to leave, she appeared serene in her blue scrubs, unmoved by the pandemic’s challenges. “Yes, since my husband’s also an essential worker, we’re taking turns homeschooling our nine year old. Our five year old’s still in the hospital’s day care with most of his friends.” Her brown eyes smiled as she spoke, her thick brunette hair swept up into a bun enhancing her loveliness. “And last night, it was such fun making supper in the kitchen. That’s never happened before. I’m sure we’ll do it again.”

Her spirit’s flexibility touched mine.

 

It was eerie: emptiness discomfited me, gnarled at the crusts of my innards, and scraped barnacles from my imagination while the sun-drenched afternoon toasted new budding on the snowflake viburnum outside my study window.

No parents walking their kids home from the elementary school in the next block, no service trucks plying their trades, no deliveries from UPS or FedEx changing gears on our court, no tools whirring or hammering changes into the power lines or landscape.

As a solitary dog-walker trudged up the hill, her chest heaving, a creeping emptiness knifed my sense of life.

I sat in my wing-back chair, closed my eyes, and waited. I remained uneasy and surrendered. Yet, a new courage emboldened me to listen. Within the emptiness an uncanny sense of the Sacred emerged, a wisdom not found in human discourse or books. This was something else.

It hurt: one of the faces of grief.

Yet, a wise potter once said, “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds what we want.”

Something red flickered, gentling the branch of the viburnum shrub outside my study window: It was the cardinal, its feathered crest bespeaking authority. Mesmerized, I sought its spirit. For a split second, turned inside out in riotous colors, it happened. Then, I was alone, the branch slick with raindrops still trembling from its visitor.

I had been visited. Its import would be revealed. I’d just have to listen.

Earlier in the morning, I wondered whether I was still eligible for hospice, given Medicare’s second benefit period winding down. I was still performing my ADLs, albeit more slowly, still managing with helpers in my home, still content with new learning each twenty-four hours. Yet imperceptibly, I was still losing ground. The steroid, at first helpful with my symptoms, was less effective, rendering me weak and lightheaded. Breathing still limited my endurance, increased my need to pace myself, and messed with coughing up phlegm during the day.

“Of course, Liz, you still meet the criteria for hospice,” Alice said later as she wrapped the blood pressure cuff around my upper arm. “We’ve also gotten to know you these past months—you’re doing very well—and you know to call us whenever you need help with personal care.” Often, she had offered this additional service. I brightened with her words, seeping into vestiges of denial still lurking within my psyche’s depths.

So again it was about acceptance, deeper than previously experienced. I felt its sweet release. This was working out, literally one day at a time. I only had to show up and keep an eye out for the cardinal, my backyard companion and teacher.

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