Humor is essential when you serve the dying. Why? How?
A very nice sister-in-law who visited her brother-in-law for hours every day said, “How do you do this work? I’d be crying all the time.”
Let’s see; I think I’ve heard this about five million times. I want to say them, “Oh yeah, I’m just an unfeeling, cold-hearted bitch who enjoys torturing herself forty hours a week. Want to know what the schmutz on my scrubs is? Oh, it’s just a little bit of the copious flood of infected pus that came out of bed twelve’s lungs when we turned her. No worries! Fun! So what it is you’re asking dear?”
But I know why they say that. I feel the same way when I walk through an office lined with cubicles. Or a pet rescue. How they work in that environment is anathema to me. Same thing?
And if they call me “an angel,” I retreat to my imagination and think about what an angel I wasn’t with that guy who budded in line last night.
I want to say to the people who have jobs staring at dueling monitors and being on the phone all day litigating and arguing, “How the hell do you sit on your ass all day arguing that you’re right?”
I want to say “Put the damn phone down; shit has gotten real. Real. If you want me to help you out with this experience, you better hurry up and pay attention. I know you’re in foreign territory and it’s not a language or terrain you know, but you may want to watch me and listen up.” But instead I smile kindly and recite my inner mantra: “Everyone has their journey, the dance they’ve choreographed. Chill. Allow.”
To the people who have zero nurturing instincts I want to say, “Hello? Anyone home? Hello? Tune in. Tune IN.” (So if you see me tapping myself on the top of my head, it’s a code for “Help!”)
You want to know a couple of things that make me crack up and snort when I’m taking care of someone who’s dying?
Here are a couple:
- when someone’s dentures fall out or click and turn backward when they’re talking.
- A family member or visitor who has zero nurturing instincts and they go through robotic motions of what they think they should do. I want to knock on the top of their head and say, “Hello? Anybody home?” Those people usually stand quietly a few feet from the bed of someone who’s dying, going through strange “nurturing” motions like cocking their head like a poodle. They seem to run out of the room when their suggested that they can. But nowadays they can hide behind their cell phone and “do research.” Yea, sure.
- I’ve taught myself to find amusing what people say to the dying; it keeps me from rolling my eyes. Or ripping their tongue out or poking them in their eyes. “You look great!” “Stay strong.” I want to say to them, “Oh he’s real strong; just look at those big biceps and bright eyes! Wow! Let’s check for the washboard abs!” And a few that used to make me the craziest are “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle,” AND “You have to remain positive.” Sure, asshole, that fifteen-year-old who’s brain is gelatin is imagining ocean breezes, kissing his girlfriend and his dream car, sure. Those idiots arrive with data, statistics hardcore advice on the advantages of being positive. I want to tell them, “YOU stay positive when you have four holes in your abdomen and everything they force you to eat just drains straight out. They don’t have an appetite for a reason. The body knows what to do. And the one I use to open little doors to conversation is “where there’s life there’s hope.” It’s manipulative on my part but it perks their ears to hear me. “Pray for a miracle.” I almost always ask, “Is this something your loved one would have believed? If not, please stop imposing your belief system on him/her.” And imposing your belief systems on someone. Most of our nurse aides love the evangelist or conservative News stations blasting all the time. (That’s my next blog. No one reads these so I’ll just go for it.)
Let me break down the most popular platitude, “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.” Now c’mon. Whenever I have a young child or teenager or anyone younger than sixty, it hurts my heart. I could walk around my life 24/7 being sad. But I refuse to. There’s so much beauty in this experience. Dying young people can be so precious and respond to humor. They love it when I’m goofy at times. I want to do a happy dance honoring them. There’s always a pall of sadness around their home, but when I arrive, there’s lots of love and lots of humor.
Here’s some of the things I’ve whispered in their ear:
“she’s really sad and trying to pick the right words. Forgive her.”
“Oh God don’t you hate that advice?”
“I’ll keep her away from you, don’t worry.”
“I just want to scream at him. Do you want me to try it in your voice? C’mon!”
“You keep sleeping. They just need to know you’re comfortable. I’ll handle it.”
“I’ll laugh at that one for you.”
…and at the end I often say:
“Hey, thanks for being on this earth. You’ve done a damn good job. Go in peace, my friend, go in peace.”
And, sometimes I add,
“Say Hi to my sisters for me.”