It Comes When You Don’t Want It
When you’re shopping. When you’re on an important phone call. When you’re at your youngest child’s soccer game. When you’re cleaning up the house . . . It strikes without warning and all you can do is succumb to it. All you can do is let it grab you and swallow you whole and try to breathe in breaks, counting to ten, and allow yourself the chance to be overcome by a force much stronger than you. This is what happened to a patient I was registering for a particular scan on Wednesday, March 04, 2020. A certain phrase triggered her and she shook her head quickly, held up a hand to me as if to say, “Please, just give me a moment,” and then the tears flooded her face.
I respect life. I honor death. I give grief the space it needs. I directed her to the box of Kleenex to her left and advised her to “Please, take your time, ma’am.” She wiped her face, huffed out a regretful sigh, and began to explain to me that her husband died three weeks ago. It’s still fresh, you see. She isn’t used to the frequent interruptions that her heart issues to her because life is still trying to go on, however, she is feeling stuck.
She took the tissue and dabbed at her eyes. She talked while I listened. I went over her medical information, the purpose for her scan, verified her demographics, then gave her a little more time to be in that space. That space was comforting. It was necessary for the moment. And me — this stranger she met at an imaging center preparing her for what’s to come is now apart of her growth.
She apologized profusely and I looked at her with a clear intent to demonstrate that there was no need for an apology. I asked her if she needed more time before we pressed on and she told me that she was okay — we could continue. I finished the registration process, slipped a wristband on her left wrist, and directed her to the waiting room where she would be called for her scan. I asked her before saying goodbye if I could hug her. She nodded yes, and I lifted myself up from my chair, walked around to the patient lobby, and pulled her in for a long, tight hug.
The tears came quicker then, but this time, she did not apologize. I told her that I wished her well — I wanted peace to be something she could gain and soon. She thanked me and we ended our time together. I have never been married. I cannot tell you what it feels like to lose a spouse, but I have lost a grandmother, two-great-grandmothers, a grandfather, an aunt, a few cousins, and a couple of close friends. I know that this type of pain — this death pain comes and goes. It never truly ceases.
We cannot time it. We do not have a map for it. We cannot direct it. It comes when it wants and usually when you do not want it to. It sneaks up on you when all you want to do is find sweet rest, but you cannot and eerily enough, it’s almost like grief knows this. It’s as if it knows you want to move on, you want to be lifted up from the belly of the infected beast, but no matter what you do, you are pulled back into its sweaty grip.
The next few people I registered happened to be in line waiting while I interacted with this particular patient and each of them thanked me for what I did. It must have been the look on my face because I thought and I assumed, most would think this way too, that this is how we are to react when someone needs a moment — to give them the time to step back, lose it a bit, and come back to life. There’s still humanity, people — some of us are truly humane.
Grief does not wait for you to get it together. It does not care who is watching. It does not think about the life you have to live after your loved one dies and will never come back. It moves and shakes and hits you when you least expect it. I hugged a patient today. We embraced until she stopped crying and nothing else mattered to me at that moment. Nothing else could have pulled me from what I thought mattered most.
All that mattered is that she knew I cared and I had to show her — I did.
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