This post is penned by my friend, Rhonda whose multiple sclerosis landed her in hospice in January of this year. Rhonda is a writer, and though she she’s not afraid of death, she is not ready because she still has so much to say. Like any writer, Rhonda wants to know her words are being read, so when she recently gave me her journal entries describing her first week in hospice, I offered to post them here on my blog. I am doing only light editing – formatting, mostly, and deleting the occasional sentence that the software was unable to understand and interpret. Because of the disease, Rhonda doesn’t have the breath support to string together long sentences or to sustain any volume to speak of. When we talk on the phone, she is very patient as I repeatedly ask her to repeat what she just said or repeat back the bits I understood, asking her to fill in the gaps.
You may want to start here then follow the links at the end of each post to read yourself current. It means a lot to Rhonda to know how her words are landing in the world, so please leave a comment if you feel inspired to, and she will reply as and when she is able. Rhonda writes with the assistance of talk-to-text software, and some days her energy level doesn’t even permit that, so if she doesn’t reply to your comment, don’t interpret her silence as anything but a lack of available energy or available assistance, as she now requires help to do the most basic things that we take for granted. Somebody is reading your comments to her, though, you can be sure of that, and she is receiving them with a grateful heart. From both of us, thank you for being here, for bearing witness to this remarkable, amazing woman.
Day 2, Friday
I wake up they tell me that a buncha’ friends trickled-in to visit me earlier. They were turned away because I was sleeping. They find out that I’m in hospice and all assume that dying is imminent. I am much too quick to tell them that I am only temporarily here until I go back home or a care facility opens up for me in Pella. I am not one of “them.” I am not dying soon, anyway. Mike talks that it will be soon. I don’t say anything, but I feel hurt. I feel very alive.
The nurse walks into my room, wide-eyed. I quickly ask her for tea–my usual request. She looks so harried, like she’s busy with something more important than my drink request. She says, “We are really busy now. We just had two deaths. That never happens.” She runs out of the room to get ready for two mini-memorial services. I don’t ask who. I remain quiet. Surreal.
We are four.
After a good amount of time I hear a harmonica with a clumsy “God Bless America.” Alive. Because I have been lifted and deposited into my wheelchair, I wait by the door to watch a mortician wheel away one shrouded body. I just wanted the new experience of seeing death. My friend is similar, only she likes to sit in a moonlit cemetery. “It’s not so much a meditation on death, as it is on the transcendence of life.”
My musical choice for death would not be patriotica.
Today I do not stare at the walls. I even go out the door to the kitchen. There is nice light through the windows. I see Betty “cruising” around in her manual wheelchair. I wonder if she can even see anything from her permanently bowed stature.
Angela and Shawn come with Josh, Angela’s just-about-a-man son, and Subway for our weekly gabfest. Lunch date in a hospice house.
Today’s topic naturally falls to eagle eggs. “Do they get fertilized before or after they’re laid?” Shawn asks, completely straight-faced. Angela and I don’t know how to respond. Is she serious, we wonder? Neither of us makes fun of the question because we don’t know how to treat it. Is she serious?
Our initial disbelief fades into smart-ass banter. “I know,” I say. “The male eagle gets hot and bothered around a female eagle. Then he ejaculates and uses his feathers to wipe the “seed” all over the eggs. Eggs are especially porous. Abracadabara! Eaglets.”
Eagle ruminations in our usual segue style naturally lead us to bird watching. Out of a couple seconds of silent reflection on birds and sex and eagle eggs Angela launches a question. “Fertilization? How do birds procreate, anyway?” “Hmm,” Shawn is thinking out loud. “Are birdwatchers not nature lovers at all but porn voyeurs? Are they really trying to sneak a peek?”
Josh perks up. “I’ll just Google ‘bird porn.’” That’s a good idea, I’m thinking as Angela herself perks up. “No no no. You better not Google anything related to porn.” We all laugh. “Duh.”
Tomorrow I will ask Mike for forgiveness.
I name my new 2011 journal “As I Lay Living.” Shouldn’t “lay” be “lie”? Or did Faulkner intend “lay” to be active? Should I really be questioning Faulkner’s language usage? Maybe I should read the book.
The weather is unseasonably warm. Phil, the chaplain, stops by with fresh coffee from Smokey Row. We sit on my private porch, both not believing that it could be 68° in January. We agree that God is revealed in the dry pre-spring landscape. Coffee with a new friend…
I spend the rest of the day getting ready for a book club baby shower. By “getting ready” I mean that I ask my aide to set up seven folding chairs around my room. I plan to stay in bed. I guess all eight of us will be here.
Jane is all aglow. We throw baby presents at her like confetti, like little scraps from a roomful of gushing and doting oneness. Jane’s daddy support is sometimes there, often times absent. We hate him for his absence but love Jane and Owen. We gush. We dote. Jane glows.
Welcoming life in solidarity. After all, hospice is a place to celebrate life.
Jean tells me later that we have a new companion–a woman. Her gender is all the information I can ask.
We are five.