Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Death Dream 5/4/04

you can tell I'm in school when I'm dredging up old postings for this site. :-) I posted this to a different blog before I had this one focused on death and dying. Though it would give some insight as to the process I've gone through in coping with working with the dying.


I had an intense week at work. Two patients died. They were both on the palliative care service, so I expected them to die, but their deaths affected me pretty profoundly.

So I really, desperately want to work with patients who are dying. I am already doing this work, but I am still such a novice. I have so much to learn. And learning to help people die well is changing me in amazingly beautiful and powerful ways that are difficult to describe in brief. But the start of this work – nursing school – nearly destroyed my relationship with S. This was a cost I had never anticipated that I might have to make in order to do work which has so much meaning for me.

I just woke up from a dream tonight, woke up literally moments ago. In the dream, I was having a deep conversation with my younger cousin J; he was in a crisis in life and lost and alone. I spent a lot of time listening to his struggle. I then did my best to provide him with reassurances – both that he is an amazing person and that he is not alone in his struggles. After our conversation came to a natural and satisfying end, I had the sense that I was running out of time. As I left him to go find S, I heard that movie sound effect of a mass of army boots marching in unison, but this time it was real. I could tell by the decibel of the sound that the army was only about a block away. My hometown was being invaded. The war was going to move onto U.S. soil. Though philosophically, I have always thought it was fucked up that we as a country get involved in so many wars abroad and don’t ever have to live with the reminders of how war affects individual people in their every day lives who live through wars on their soil. Not to discount 9/11 – New Yorkers who lived through that day have a much closer sense of what days and nights of bomb raids must be like. But if the entire country had had the experience of wondering if the next bomb would land on their house, perhaps more people would stand up to protest the wars we get involved in. (But that is a whole 'nother line of conversation – sorry I’m getting off track here). Regardless, I was, of course, terrified in this dream as the city I call home was being invaded. The most important thing at that moment was to get our dog who also happened to be with me, and myself back to S. I had the sense that our time in this life was running out. And all I wanted was for S and me and our dog to be together in the end. As I was rerouting our way home to avoid the troops, anxiously making sure our dog was keeping up with me, I awoke.

As I woke, I immediately rolled over to feel S's body in bed next to me and grabbed her hand.


I have been working on understanding the four tasks for living and dying so that I can better help my patients through these tasks. The past two weeks, I have been profoundly altered (for the better) by my fresh understanding of the task of forgiving ourselves and forgiving the people who have hurt us in this life. Not that I have accomplished this task myself – I still have a large share of forgiving to do – but I suddenly understand the importance of forgiveness on an overwhelmingly bittersweet, deep level.

Tonight before falling asleep, I had been focusing on understanding the second task – the need to find meaning in life. In an explanation I found on the internet about the list of tasks, this task had asked the question: What are my priorities? Did I live my life according to them? And I guess my answer is still uncomfortable for me. This is something I’ve been asking myself ever since my cousin M died. Am I living my life according to my priorities? Honestly, I am still struggling to find that balance. But right now, I am desperately relieved that when I woke up from this dream, I wasn’t waking up from life finding that S was already gone. It’s not too late. In the dream and in life, I still have time to find her.

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