Yesterday I spent time with a palliative client in his home. (I still get to work with palliative patients, just not as often.) Normally he is a cheeky ol’ bird. He is always cherry and accepts his due; a lifelong smoker dying of lung cancer, and soon. Anyway, he was quiet yesterday. Subdued; fighting back tears. I asked him if he was experiencing pain and he shook his head no. Tears welled up in his eyes but did not spill over. I sat with him and rubbed his back, feeling his bones in his tiny cancer ravaged frame. He said, “No, just feeling sorry for myself.” I lightly chastened him. He was not by any means feeling sorry for himself. He is dying and he knows it. He is scared and not ready to die. I explained that he has every right to feel sad and angry. He admitted his biggest fear is saying goodbye to his daughter. Neither he or his daughter have acknowledged the elephant in the room. I clearly remember both my mom and I ignoring that same elephant when she was dying. Neither of us wanted to talk about it. Talking about it makes it true. I told him my story. My story about how after my mom and I talked about her dying our relationship deepened and we talked about so many things that needed to be said. It was precious. It was painful. At this point the tears spilled over and he said of all the (home support) people that visited him, I was the most helpful. I am not saying to toot my own horn. I am saying this because it makes me realize that something beautiful can come out of something so awful.My mom’s death, though devastating has made me a better caregiver. I can’t begin to say how grateful I am for that. It has taken three years for me to be able to think about my mom and not feel the twist of the knife. Don’t misunderstand, it is still the most painful thing I carry but I know she would be happy that I was able to use my pain to help someone else. After I left the home I stepped out into the cold morning air and breathed a deep breath of gratefulness.
*Identifying details of this patient have been changed to protect identity.