Thursday, November 17, 2011

This One's Not About Midwifery

Most of midwifing is about joy, whether subtle or overt – the excitement of a new pregnancy, the welcoming of a new life into the world, the beauty of a woman as she blossoms throughout the stages of life. The days when things aren’t so easy – long, drawn-out labors, difficult clients, or struggles to understand vague symptoms and nagging ailments – pale in comparison to the wonder of a mother gazing into her firstborn’s wide eyes.

This post, though, is about those days, few and (thankfully) far in between… as a nurse, a friend, and a family member, I’ve seen grief. Grief that sneaks up alongside you, taps you on the shoulder, and then takes you out at the knees; finally helping you up and keeping pace with you, step for step, until you feel as though you can no longer take it. I’ve worked with families who’ve had babies born still – babies born fully developed, perfect in every way; other babies have been lost far too early, months before they were expected to arrive, yet already eagerly anticipated and much loved. I’ve known and cried with families as they mourn the loss of babies diagnosed with terminal illnesses, not compatible with life, and supported them as they honored their loved, tiny infants the best way they knew how. As a midwife – remember, I have only been able to claim that title for two weeks – I have yet to embrace women and their families in those desperate, dark hours… but I will be there.

My grandpa died.

When it comes down to it, that’s what this post is really about. Barely two months ago, my grandpa – my Mini’s “Puppa” – was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia – and given a prognosis ranging from moderate to poor (depending on the treatment regime chosen and the response of the disease to it, of course). One dose of chemotherapy didn’t significantly improve Puppa’s counts, but didn’t drag him down at all, either; he still fought like hell. Even a nasty, raging infection to his IV port didn’t take the fight out – it was only when his oncologist really explained why he had recommended hospice care (rather than continued chemo treatments) that he just gave in, and let go… within a week, he was gone.

To me, Puppa was larger than life – he wore Brut cologne, farmed his entire working life, fished and hunted like a “real man” in the Midwest would, and ate headcheese and liverwurst (ewww). My memory is flooded with treasures from my childhood; this is the man who taught me how to bait a fish hook (and get a fish off the hook, once caught), climb up on a tractor to ride beside him, play cribbage, and to open a glass bottle of Sun-Drop with a bottle opener. I could go on and on – like any good granddaughter – but I’ll keep those memories as seeds to plant for the Mini’s, or if nothing else, for a day when I’m a little more awake, and it’s a little earlier. Memories that they may lose (or have never experienced) like how Puppa always had a teeny Tupperware container in his shirt pocket for them, with just two jelly beans or marshmallows in for them, or how on birthdays, he had a special card just for the birthday kid with exactly the number of crumpled dollar bills as years old you were turning, the envelope and card addressed in his loopy writing… his love of Diet Sun-Drop – but *only* in the old glass bottles, not in cans, and not in the ‘new’ glass bottles. And the dimes – always the dimes…

When death comes, it’s amazing how fast/slow things move. I swear it was just yesterday that my grandpa walked into my living room, showed me the lab results from his recent hospital stay, and asked me what I thought of them (as my heart dropped to the floor). And, just a few days before that – it had to have been – we were all out on the pontoon boat, with everyone healthy and happy. But it seems like it’s been months and months of watching him slowly fade away….

I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child, or a spouse, or a parent… yet I can’t fathom thinking that I’ve “only” lost my grandpa. How do you compare this hurt? I feel selfishly grateful that this is really the first time in my memory that I have lost someone close to death; I’m also so grateful that my family is so close to begin with, and that the Mini’s know their greatgrandparents so well. The very last words that my grandpa really said to me, a few days before he passed away – looking me right in the eye, with a squeeze of his hand – were, “Thank you.” When I asked what he was thanking me for, he said, “For it all.”

To everyone who has gone through this grief, whether the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, a sweet child, or the whisper of a child yet to be --- let yourself be embraced by the open arms of those who care. Open yourself to the friends who can offer words of comfort, hope, and love; to the family that shares your memories and knows stories outside of your own. Realize the true beauty of the people who will forgive you when you 'disappear' for a few days or weeks, lost in your own world of clouded thoughts and reminiscences. I feel so blessed and have so much appreciation for everyone who made the last few weeks, especially the last few days, easier than they might ever have been otherwise.

Thank you… for it all. XOXO


(P.S. This post formed in my head as I finally took a hot, hot shower, letting the past few days and weeks rinse over me; as I got out and wrapped myself in warm pajamas, I was overwhelmed with the scent of Brut…. *tear* Things always end up all right, don't they?)