Arts & Crafts Magazine

Thank You Thank You Thank You

By Laharris1

Thank you Thank you Thank you
photo: tifforelie
I was sitting in a fluorescent lit conference room behind a long table watching the Director of our hospice program laugh out loud. Every so often you meet a person who captivates you by the simple fact of their oddity. Our director is an enigma to me, a strange combination of a comedic Jackie Chan and the gentle Dali Lama. Tall and lean with a little boy hair-cut, he talks fast with a distinct accent and instantly puts people at ease with his jokes about his love of desserts. In a world that is dominated by death, he is a walking advertisement for joy.
On this day he was describing the process of dying at a monthly seminar and despite the ominous white board at the front of the room, filled with the hand-drawn graphs signaling the direction of each of our future deaths, his delivery was one of exuberance.
Honestly, who does this? Who laughs and blurts out things like, “What’s wrong with talking about death?!’“We should ALLLLL be talking about it!”
And it’s not just his delivery, the guy believes this, in fact, he lives it. He has probably presided at more death beds in his life than I could possibly imagine and on this day, he is explaining the intricate signs that we volunteers should recognize during our visits with our hospice patients.Since I have already had two patients die I am utterly fascinated by this lecture and yes, there is even a pang of disappointment.
To be completely honest, I had these wonderful visions of helping dying people write their enlightened good-byes when I signed up for this gig. I expected to be a helpful story-teller, to be welcomed by wise old souls who wanted to use me as a vessel to carry their messages.

I was going to be that person who helped them share their poignant last words with family and friends. WRONG.

So far, I had experienced nothing close.
Instead, I had been shocked by the prevalence of dementia I had seen and the absolute inability or desire of any dying patient so far to tell their personal story, or contemplate the saying of real good-byes, despite their physical deterioration.
As I gazed over the four graphs of the death process I felt deflated, even dumb.“Generally, people die the way they lived,” our Director was saying in response to my question about death bed enlightenment.
He was smiling with twinkling eye as he continued,

“All those dramatic death bed scenes showing people delivering last minute words they never said before, the stuff we see in the movies? Nah, that’s Hollywood! Most people remain pretty much who they were in their life. Angry in life? Angry at the end. No big changes on the death bed. Not usually.”I continued to listen and let his words sink in when suddenly I got my answer.

The real reason I went to this lecture on this day.

From the front of the conference room the Director is animated and happily launching into one of his stories. He is talking in a loud, energetic voice about a recent conversation he had with his high school son who is also one of the program volunteers.

His son was complaining about his patient assignment, a patient I assumed from his description might be in the throes of dementia.
“Dad,” he says to our Director. “It’s the same thing every week. I’m doing absolutely nothing for her, all she does the whole hour is say, Thank you Thank you Thank you.
And the Director—his Dad- responds back,
“What-ya-mean you’re not doing anything?! You’re giving her someone to say, ‘Thank you’ to!”

And laughter fills the room and the last words I really remember were ones about the dignity of each person no matter how they might appear to us, and no matter what our judgments might be about them.For a second I felt my face flush, jolted by Life’s prim reminder that “Hey—it’s not always about you, ya know.”
And then the nagging thought that, sigh, I know nothing.
Which isn’t bad. Having one of those ‘I know nothing’ moments actually feels refreshing, a reminder to keep my beginner’s mind; and I like to think it's the universe nudging me to beware of that cushy, old self-importance that occasionally sneaks up on me.I don’t know what you’ll make of all this.
But for me, this felt like an eye-blinking peek at the truth. An afternoon which left me with the idea that maybe life isn’t so complicated after all. In the end –no matter how educated or successful or talented or fancy-pants-important we think we are, and no matter how lofty our life lessons we want to impart on others might be, maybe the truth is as simple as this:In the end it’s our kindness that really matters.
Day 2 -my one little thing project

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