Thursday, April 28, 2011

Where The Boundaries Are Blurred

I did a not very smart thing tonight.

I had a few glasses of wine and dug out my journal from Owen's ICU stay.

I can't copy that emotional clusterfuck here.  But I'm glad I wrote it all down.

One thing I had forgotten about though, fell out of the journal.

A letter I'd written to the husband of a resident of mine.

Ethel and Randall owned and operated a nursing home for most of their marriage.  She the nurse and he the business man.

He brought her to us, to me,  in the late stages of Alzheimer's, after having a stroke and more recently, breaking a hip.

He visited every single day, usually dressed in his Sunday best.  And for months, he sobbed every day when he left her.  He'd cling to me crying, telling me how much he loved her.

Randall taught me that on an Alzheimer's unit, my patient's families were as much under my care as their loved one. 

We knew that he lived alone. And was well into his eighties. So if he missed a day visiting Ethel, we'd call their daughter Myrna.

He shuffled in one day with a poorly bandaged hand.  He tried to hide it from us.  He'd mangled a few fingers on his lawn mower. Nothing that needed stitches; we cleaned it up, rebandaged it, and sent him home insisting that he check in with his doctor and never touch his lawn mower again.

He promised to do both. And we promised to not tell his daughter about the incident.

We were on the phone to Myrna before he was out the door.

Myrna always visited, but came more often after Randall lost his driver's license. He'd hit the wrong pedal and drove into a new car lot.  New truck actually.  He'd totalled a few.

They were tickled to find out I was pregnant.  Myrna was sure I was having a girl and knit me a beautiful heavy pink blanket, suitable for a Vermont winter.  Bea has that blanket on her right this very moment. 

Toward the end of my pregnancy, Ethel let us know that her time was approaching.  Randall and Myrna were deeply saddened but also accepting.  We were in constant contact those last few weeks.

I remember a day, toward her end.  I'd had the day off, but having nothing to do, decided the best use of my time would be spent sitting with Ethel.

I sat for a few hours.  I ate Cheerios. The things one recalls.

I felt Owen kick.

One hand holding Ethel's, the other on my belly.

I've said it before, and if you can ever do it, I highly recommend it;

Feeling a new life kicking into existence as you grasp the hand of a life fading out of existence is well - life.

I'm ever grateful to have had that experience, more than once. And to have the presence of mind to bathe in its enormity.

So. The letter to Randall.

I wrote it when Owen was four weeks old.  His survival was very much a question mark.  I sat and stared at him, helpless.  He was in a place where I could not comfort him.

But I thought maybe Ethel could. 

He was straddling the realms, just like I had when he was inside me and I was holding onto her.

I told Randall that I imagined Ethel comforting Owen.  Making sure he was never alone while he decided where he was going to go. 

She wasn't alone either.  Many others were with her.  Ones who I had a hand in easing the journey had come to return the favor to me.

The little ICU cubicle crowded with ghosts keeping watch over Owen.

They were waiting too.  Either to say goodbye when he came to me, or to welcome him home if he went with them.

I never sent the letter.

And this Christmas, a friend sent me Randall's obituary. 

I was surprised that he'd lasted so long without Ethel.  And glad he'd found her again.

I wonder if she told him the story about the time she kept the sick baby company.


  1. God, girl. You have the best damn stories.

  2. You always leave me feeling a sense of hope. I pray, almost daily, that if I'm lucky enough to live to be old and well old enough to live out the rest of my life in a nursing home, I pray that I have a nurse like you who watches out for me and takes care of me. Have you ever had a patient with NF? It frightens me that nurses will just look at me and make fun of me and be afraid to take care of me. I bet you'd take amazing care of me and tell my story with dignity and respect.

    This line, "my patient's families were as much under my care as their loved one. " Tells me that you will never be paid enough for what you do. You are probably the best nurse that nursing home has ever seen and will likely ever see.

  3. Seriously. Beautiful. Stop making me cry.

  4. Oh, Tulpen. The loveliness of this post astounds me (not surprises, astounds). Sharing that straddling of the threshold between life and death is one of the most intense experiences a person can have. You write about it so beautifully, I was right there with you.

    As you know having lost both my father and my mother-in-law this past year I have written much about death lately. It's a hard subject to approach with light, and you do, you do. Thank you.

  5. I got chills when I read this. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. Sweet Christ woman, even though you're drunk, this is so well written. Swear to God you amaze me.

  7. Beautiful story, and I'm so glad you shared it.

  8. Annnd...I'm crying again.

    You are a wonderful story teller and a beautiful soul.

  9. You are wonderful. I don't know if you hear this enough, so thank you for what you do.

    I was already in a weepy mood, and now, I'm complete mush.

  10. You write of these events so well... so eloquently...

    I can so relate to the relationship that you wrote of between Owen and Ethel...

    You are SO important there where you are... where you work. You provide that extra touch.


  11. I love the utter lack of sentimentality in your writing -- so raw and true. Thank you for sharing this bit with us --

  12. This is don't really know what else to say. Beautifully written.

  13. I'm sure she told him that, and all the times you were holding her hand, making her passage easier.

    Now hand me a tissue...

  14. For fuck sakes, you tell the best stories.

    I swear I'll not make this all about me, but something you said just hit me over the head.

    My mom was pregnant with me when her mom died from Cancer. There's a pretty good chance she got to sit holding her hands on both sides of life.
    Maybe that's why I've always felt the grandmother I've never met in person, so close to my life.

    Seriously Lady, when is the book about life/death/birth/passing getting written?

  15. beautifully done. the details and the emotion... it is interesting what one remembers in that mental photograph we take in times of great importance. i love your writing, and this was a pleasure to read.

  16. So glad I found your blog. This was such a beautiful story.

    *Note to self: Do not visit this one while PMS-ing.

  17. This? has me bawling. So beautiful at heart, so promising, so full of hope.

  18. Crap. We're not supposed to make this about us?

    Because when I read this, I couldn't help thinking a couple of things (besides holy shit you are a WRITER).

    First, I'm not okay with death. Not even a little bit. I try to not think about it because it scares me and is not an issue about which I am at peace. At all.

    So when I read your words about straddling the threshold, I couldn't help but wish I might be there someday (which sounds wrong because who wishes for someone's death? but it's not like that. i hope you understand what i'm trying to say).

    And also, the exact hour that my baby girl was born, my grandmother's sister "passed" (that's how they insist on saying it).

    My grandmother was one of five girls; she had two daughters who each had two daughters. There were only girls for three generations.

    Then my grandmother had four great-grandsons in a row.

    So on the day my girl was born, the day my grandmother lost her first sister, she found her first and only great granddaughter. And she was joyful in that moment.

    I can't get there yet, but your words give me...ummmm...I don't know.

    Hope? Perspective?

    (shut up, julie. it's not about you.)

    Anyway. Thanks.

  19. Dammit woman. You know my hand went right to my belly when you mentioned Owen.

    Your words never fail to move me. And you should seriously consider getting these memoirs published.

  20. Seriously stop making me cry bitch!

  21. I can't find the words for this one.

    Except that it left me dizzy with thoughts and emotion.

    I feel like I've been up all night now.

  22. Love the stories that you tell, the one's where you are you.
    Yes, I know we love you because you are always you, but I love this you. The tender you. That other one brings tears with laughter, this one brings tears of ... I think I ran out of words ;)

  23. You have the most gorgeous spirit, I look forward to your stories!

  24. So powerfully sweet.
    Thank you so much for sharing this little piece of journal with us.
    I used to work in a nursing home prior to my graduation from nursing school. I became not only attached to the residents but to their families as well. When I graduated I vowed never to work in a nursing home. It was too emotional for me.
    Thank goodness there are people like you who have the heart to do it.
    I'm so glad that you had Ethyl to lean on in spirit.

  25. I don't have words.
    So many tears.

  26. You are indescribable. I've lurked long enough ... never again. You deserve acclimation, especially for this post.

    Jane from Ohio

  27. i am too emotional to form real words.

    but i love how you tell a story.

    the stories you tell are not always happy, but you tell them in a way that I feel...emotional.

  28. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  29. I know just what you mean. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

  30. Would you please stop making me cry when I read your posts? I mean, Jeez Louise. It is very annoying to be touched like this by your words.
    Honestly. The nerve of you for being so damn good.

  31. Wonderful connection between all of you.

  32. WOW this post is amazing, I too am a lurker and u need to know how much of an amazing writer u are.....i am addicted to your blog now

  33. You blow me away. Every single time. Like a fairy tale this story was and I am so completely jealous of your ability to say things the way you do.

  34. That was just beautiful. I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog today :)

  35. My goodness! goodness!

    This was gorgeous, heartfelt, and transparent.


  36. It feels so good to know that there are caring people who help us go to the other side. Either physically or spiritually.

    Good God, this is beautiful. I cannot thank you enough for sharing as you do.

  37. We've talked before about end-of-life care. I was with my grandfather, holding his hand, when he took his last breath. When my wife's grandfather passed away, he was at home, all of his family in the room together.

    This was a truly beautiful post, Tulpen.

  38. I hope you never stop! This is one of the best blogs I’ve ever read. You’ve got some mad skill here, man. I just hope that you don’t lose your style because you’re definitely one of the coolest bloggers out there. Please keep it up because the internet needs someone like you spreading the word.

  39. Wow. Just wow.

    Taking a quick break at work, just thought I'd visit you...I'm so glad I did, but I'm all teary. Your words are always so comforting at the same time that they can be sad and mournful.

    You are just amazing.

  40. What a gift you have. I won't say which one, because I can see there are so many.

  41. well you made this chick cry. wah. the circle of life. god it is tough sometimes, but whaddya gonna do.

  42. tears. i imagine that she did...smiles.

  43. The people you've worked with over the course of your career are truly amazing. Not all, I'm sure, but the ones in your stories are magic.

  44. This is my first time visiting your blog (from trdc). This post was beautiful. Not just in how you conveyed the story, but also in the way that you lived it. Thank you for being such a caring soul and thank you for sharing this with us.

  45. there you go again... your story makes me think. and wonder - what is that limbo, that on the fenceness, that betwixt and between place that a soul just kind of hangs in the balance? It seems like a different spiritual plane or something. a cosmic parking spot.

    its weird that we don't have a name for it, but when you describe it we all know what you're talking about.

  46. This was so beautiful. My great-grandmother, who I was very close to, passed away a month before I got pregnant with my first. I know she had a hand in helping pick what little soul to bless us with.

  47. man your writing (and life stories) are a real tear jerker.

  48. Good GOD....

    I love when you're drunk and post - you tell us the most amazing stories.

    I'm so glad Ethel was there for Owen :)

  49. sob.i love the way you write and this story is full of hope but still sad. thank you for writing.

  50. And I'm crying.

    I love you.

    And your writing.

  51. The same thought always returns to my head after I read your words - God how I wish from the bottom of my soul that you were my Gran's nurse.

    I bet she's still around Owen, keeping watch. I believe very few things, but I KNOW angels are among us.

  52. I have no words. You gave me chills.

  53. I spent the entire post trying to figure out why Ethel and Randall were ticked you were pregnant. Then I put my glasses on and read it again. Tickled. And now....I'm with you. Heavy sigh.

  54. Oh my god... I am still at work and literally have tears just about to stream down my face when someone comes over to my desk to ask me something. And I am practically a blubbering mess. Did I mention there's rarely, if ever, a need to fucking CRY at this job? Yeah.
    "Oh, my allergies are acting up." (Very lame save.)
    Please tell me you'll save these posts at some point down the road. Please.


Use Your Words.