“Make a difference in this world in some way. Leave a positive footprint, not just a small carbon one. Make a difference. Your life should count for something.”
-Caroline Myss, The 12 Spiritual Truths
Taken from her final Salon, Jan. 4th 2017
I never thought on December 24th of last year I would be chasing a memory impaired man down the street in Atlanta. Of course, it was the day I took a friend with me to the Assisted living home to meet the people and see what visiting with them was like. One of the residents was coming from the bus stop and said “Hey Jan…Mr. X is about ¼ mile up the street picking up trash. Mr. X is memory impaired. The CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) ran out the door—I looked at my friend and said stay here, I must help. I went racing up the hill after the CNA. Mr. X was a good bit farther away and was picking up trash near a high voltage Marta line. Leaning very close to the fence. He tripped several times in the weeds and his hands were bleeding from picking up broken glass. The CNA was yelling for him to step away from the fence. He said in his memory impaired state “God @! #%…I am not hurting anyone and someone has to pick up this $#@^!”
On a normal day, years ago, this man looked like he would have worked at IBM. Today, with limited funds, he is housed in a facility without a Memory care unit. As we say, he was on the “loose”. I ran back and got a trash bag and then my 55-year-old butt trotted quickly back to his location. I said I brought a bag for “our” trash. He thanked me. It took a strategy and 35 minutes for the CNA and me, to coax him back to the facility. Two weeks later when I returned for my visit he let me in the door and said “Thank you for watching out for me the other week.” It almost took my breath away. The memory goes in and out. In that moment-I made a difference and in his fog, he could recognize it.
Mentally exhausted, I took my friend home. She said, “When we see the state of others, I see how easy it is to be grateful for all we have.” But this friend would see it anyway. She is that kind of generous spirit and soul.
I still had to go to another facility. It was important to me. I celebrated Christmas early with my family, focused on being together, eating, drinking, kayaking and having fun. Now that I was home, it was Christmas Eve day I wanted to be sure to visit with my people. Just in case Hospice needed Holiday help.
I arrived at the facility. We had six in the “house”. Two sleeping, one leaving, one transitioning (dying) and one had visitors from his church. I went to see the one transitioning first. It’s rare they let me go in when that is happening. It’s called “the Eleventh hour.” I wanted to go. I wanted to see if I could detect spiritual activity. Like I hear the nurses talking about. Someone reaching out and saying the name of their loved one, someone talking about a distant place or calling out the name of their beloved pet. I walk in and it is very quiet. I look at him. He is still. The nurse turned him over not but 30 minutes ago. I get closer, I look at his chest—it doesn’t seem to be moving. I determine that I think he is dead. I wait about 10 seconds, I confirm my thoughts. I go outside to the nurse and say “I think he is dead.” She says, “Did he transition?” I am impressed that she even thinks I am qualified to know...but I rise to the occasion and say “Yes, I think he is dead.” We go back together and sure enough, he had passed. It was the second time in my life I have seen a dead body immediately after death. The first was seeing my best friend’s mother. It is peaceful. It is quiet. It feels calm.
It is time for me to see the patient with visitors from his church. He is in his 20’s. He worked at a retail store. While at work he started losing feeling in his legs. Two weeks later he is in hospice struck down by a vicious spinal cancer that has spread throughout his body. He is a now a quadriplegic in a neck brace, with no feeling except his head, dying. I move beside him and I touch his forehead and say “How are you?” He says he is okay. His visitors and I converse for a good 20 minutes lightening the mood in the room. We establish a rapport. They want to know who I am and why I am there. I tell them I am a volunteer here to support this patient and to support them in whatever way I can help.
There is an interesting book titled “The Grace in Dying” by Kathleen Dowling Singh. She is a PhD and has extensive experience and training in transpersonal psychology and various spiritual traditions. She works with dying patients in a large hospice in Florida and is considered a leading expert in her work with the dying.
From reading her book I learned the following:
“Dying is safe. You are safe. Your loved one is safe. That is the message of all the words here. Know that you are safe. All these words are just to tell your mind that you are safe. If you are dying, your mind will come to know this soon. So, go and rest or go and pray or go and mediate, so that when you begin to enter the realms of the sacred you will resonate with those realms gently.”
I knew from the nurse the patient’s mother was coming. At one point, he spoke and I put my ear to his lips and said “I didn’t hear you.” He said “My momma is coming.” I said “I know she is.”
I rubbed his head with both hands. He can’t feel anything except on his head. I scratched his head and told him I like to have my head rubbed and asked him if it felt good. He said yes. Hospice training taught me that patients like to be touched. The dying like to be touched and many are afraid to touch them. I always touch them. It comes easily to me—I don’t know why but it just does.
After a thorough head rub I told him it was time for me to go. He said “I am okay.” More of a question than a statement. I thought of the book. I said “You are okay. You are safe. You are safe here. You are with friends and your momma is coming. You are safe.” I said my goodbyes and took my leave. Grateful for having read the book and grateful for the privilege of sharing his experience.
I left. It makes me wonder sometimes, these Seasons of life, as the song goes. It doesn’t matter that it’s a holiday, or that it’s the 4th of July or even someone’s birthday—even though those are important to celebrate. The Seasons of life do not stop. They never stop. They keep coming, coming and coming. It reminds me of the passage from Ecclesiastes: “A time to be born, a time to die, a time to reap and a time to sow. There is a time for everything under heaven.”
There is a benefit to dedicating your life to a good cause along the way. It is not just self-serving. It’s a fact. To give of yourself to other people, to a cause, to step outside of yourself in the service of others is of benefit. To another person and to yourself.
Caroline Myss says it is one of the great Spiritual Truths. I believe that.
"Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart."
Until next time.