Poem: In Memory Of A Father-In-Law


In the gymnasium

performing the mental exercise of the night

dipping in and out

of sardine-squeezed bystanders

I keep losing you

Cold-shouldered around a corner

like I lost myself when I had you,

why is it all so slippery?

Only pieces–

the catch of fire hair you shed long ago

But now we both have lost

him

And our shared sorrow

brings you

here

as a lamplighter illuminating truth

And even though our bond is broken

a gift is given:

his love for me

uttered from lips I once touched

This sweet small something

settles in

Then you turn from me

and walk back into the crowd

 

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Poem: The Demented


I move you

as you watch

through eyes reaching back

to dance floors hung with

cigarette smoke swirls

Your double-breasted jacket

brushing cozily against a firmly guarded chest

Slowly moving together

feeling forever young

until

the music fades away

And then you turn

to see me sitting next to you

Are you searching among

reminiscence and room?

The pirouette now is sedate and stiff

partnered hands upon cold metal rails

that follow your lead

It is not love that holds us up in the end

But the lonely grip

of the metallic burn

the flickering memories that dart

with us

in and out

as our dance partners

once did

 

 

On Dying


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I was in the presence today of a dying person. No, not like you and me–I mean actively dying. We are all dying of course, but this is part of my hospice volunteering, my first day meeting with my new patient.

It’s not at all like being a paramedic because we aren’t given much: only a name. No diagnosis, no real history, no nothing. Of course, I’m not your average volunteer, so I can deduce some things. But, I’m not there to fix really. Only to sit. And maybe to provide some small comfort, maybe some smiles and to help a caregiver get some respite.

In this case I am reminded how much we can tell by someone’s eyes. They may not be able to speak much anymore, but their eyes speak volumes. And maybe they aren’t able-bodied any longer, but it is easy to remember that this same person was someone else, someone before they were dying.

They were like you and me: laughing loudly, arguing, dancing, quilting, walking around, loving, working and most of all–living.

It makes me wonder why people spend time while they are alive wasting it on unhappy things. On things that upset them. On things that they can never reclaim. On people who will never care enough. Why I did.

I need to spend more time living while I’m dying. Because we never know when it will be our turn that the dying will become active. Or maybe the living will simply stop.

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Go Easy…


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Sometimes thinking about the past is appropriate, especially when you get news about someone that meant something to you, even if you haven’t spent much time with them in recent years.

Families are such slippery things–they are fragile and sometimes easily shattered. They also are defined by many different things, not just by blood. And often the ones that aren’t put together by blood can mean more. We define them ourselves.

When the some things that created them, like a marriage, dissolve, then they seem to disappear too–at least in the physical sense. But we may realize, especially at critical moments, they still linger within deeper parts of us; that these people who were once family are still dear.

So when I heard my ex-father-in-law is now in hospice, I found myself extremely sad. He was someone who had been very good to me while I was married. It’s been easy to recall so many memories of the kind things about him: his easy acceptance of our decision to adopt a HIV positive child, and his special love for her. And his overly enthusiastic attitude (and long conversations and questions) about my career as an EMT/Paramedic, something I didn’t always feel at home from his son. He loved the stuff!

I picture him as the typical unassuming New England man, quiet but always willing to help; that crooked smile, bald head and slight limp. He was my go to guy, always aware of what was happening with the weather, and loving to talk about it.

Maybe he’s not officially ‘family’ anymore, but in my heart he will always hold a very special place as he made me feel welcome and a part. I felt like family because of him.

Thank you, and may the rest of your days be easy…

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Hospice


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Had my training for becoming a Hospice Volunteer today. It was incredibly organized and informative. They don’t mess around–a bit different from the Soup Kitchen, I must say. Of course, it’s a whole different ball of wax. They depend on Medicare/Medicade  funding, so must tow the line, even when it comes to volunteers. We are dealing with patients, so have to follow the same guidelines that any healthcare providers do.

Luckily, having spent so many years in the business, I’m familiar with most of it–and how to deal with death and dying, and families, but it was great to get a brush up and hear their take on things.

The group was pretty big, with kids from high school right up to senior citizens. There was even another female paramedic! Only two males though, as the group was mostly women. It seemed like a really good bunch of folks willing to do a whole range of jobs. I wish I was more talented, so I could provide special things, like singing or music, but hopefully I will give something in my own way.

Once all my paperwork, tests etc. pass, then I’ll be clear to go around with a mentor and finally begin my own work with the patients. Some have no family of their own, but some just need extra. Many (most they said) have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease so might not recognize us from week to week. But that’s fine. As long as we can provide comfort of some sort.

I have some ideas of what I can do. And I’m honored to share this sacred part of someone’s life. To help give someone a good death is important. That transition can be so difficult, we must try the best we can to make it as easy as possible. For everyone: the patient and the family.

And so I step into this realm once again and take this journey with them, hopefully with something to offer.

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Remember


Two days before Christmas and today was a hard day on the ambulance and in the fire department. My ambulance call was a 43-year-old woman dying of cancer. She didn’t really need 911, she really needed hospice, but her home care worker called us instead. They often do. So we went and I transported her.

There was nothing I could medically do honestly–she had a port, and didn’t want me to start an IV. I can’t use the port, so couldn’t give her any medications to make her feel better. So my only help could be emotional support.

When I asked what I could do, she broke down and cried. Cried about the three children she would leave behind. I cried with her. And hugged her. That was all I could do. There are no amount of IV’s or medications that can heal a mother’s broken heart or worry for the kids that will be left when she leaves this earth.

And my second call was for a third alarm fire. A barn attached to a home. At first we thought it belonged to a family, but later found out it was apartments where college kids lived. Luckily they are all home on vacation. It did house someones workshop and they lost valuable tools, and also antique ones that were in the family for a generation. No-one was hurt luckily, but property was lost.

So my thought to you all tonight is remember: remember to be grateful, thankful and joyful. Whatever troubles you may have, I guarantee you would take yours back if given the choice of taking someone else’s.

Happy Holidays

Poem: Just Live


Struggling, dying, dead

My friends in stages of engagement

With this cell creating creature

That one day visits

As you wash your breast

Or your stomach hurts

The Doctor calls back

And says see us in the morning

My friend with no hair

Or my other friend

With the wig

The same one she wore

In her coffin

And my other friend in hospice

Where no-one comes anymore

You don’t wake up

When I come to visit

The diapers…

They talk about Lance

What he did bad

But he did good too

I wonder about it

Will it be me next?

Do we all wonder

Like I do?

Where does it come from?

How does it start?

My friends were good.

They didn’t smoke

But it curled around them

Sank into them

Bit into them and took a bite

I want to be free

I want to hide

But I worry

And this makes it see me

It can grow strong from worry

I play hide and seek

But I stay hidden

Hope it doesn’t find me

Ignore too much

Play pretend

Keep my fingers crossed

Dot my T’s

Feel my breasts

Hope for the best

And just live….

The Light Flickers


Today I visited my friend and Fire Captain at hospice. I had slept poorly all night, tossing and turning and having a bad dream about him. I dreamed that he had died and everyone was at the fire station dressed in their Class A uniforms waiting for his formal Fire Fighter funeral. But I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t dressed and I was freaking out.

But of course I’m not ready. And I had no idea what to expect today when I saw him. I was at work with my partner and we hoped for a call so we could visit him. Hospice house is right near the hospital and we were determined to transport anyone who called today just so we could visit. On the other hand, I was also scared who I would find when I got there.

When I first walked into the room, I saw my Lieutenant with him. My Captain was sitting on the couch leaning forward with his head down. I had just seen him on Monday at our meeting where he had received his 25 years of service pin. He didn’t look well then, but I was so glad he was there to get his pin. But today…well, today he looked like he was really dying. There is no other way to put it.

He looked up when we walked into the room and I wasn’t sure he knew who I was and it was all I could do not to lose it right then. It wasn’t my friend looking back at me. But we did what everyone does in those situations, we acted normally. Tried to lighten the mood and talked to him like nothing was different. My Cap was always a big joker–always playing practical jokes on everyone. It was hard to see him looking like he was in a different reality. Completely not with it.

His conversation was halted and he seemed uncomfortable and with his hands and legs cramping. So I asked him if he wanted to walk. Amazingly he said yes! So he and I got up and slowly walked out of his room and down the hallway into the big, bright main room. And while we did, I recalled stories of us together. Slowly and beautifully something began to flicker in him.

By the time we reached the main room he appeared more his old self. He began to joke with me and tease me. All the guys came out there by then and we got some smiles. We all started to tell some stories and it began to feel a little like normal. My Captain started to get a bit negative, but I reminded him: day at a time and he said, “yes, I’ll be OK.” And we all strolled back to his room. But I felt like I had been given a great gift.

Some people choose not to see people when they are dying and refuse to go to their funerals. But I needed to be near him. I needed to be near him for a couple of reasons. Even if he hadn’t rallied like he did, we still can’t be sure that somewhere in their dying people don’t sense our presence and aren’t comforted by it. And any way we can ease their fear or pain is a good thing. And for me, being a physical person, I needed to be close to him, touch him and kiss and hug him goodbye. Because even though his spirit will linger in our fire department, I will take every chance I get to be near him while he’s still here on this earth.