Yesterday one of my patients I have been seeing for about a month opened up and asked me the big question I often get asked “When?” “When will I die?” I always answer honestly that I do not know, it seems to come as a disappointment that being a hospice nurse I am not privy to insider information. But it does open up the conversation to larger things, exploration of one’s beliefs, sharing of stories to allay fears and the opening up of the soul, the remembering.
This gentleman had been somewhat reserved in my prior visits, mostly due to his disease process, I would always look deeply into his eyes when I cared for him because I felt he had much to say but an inability to express himself, yesterday was different, with a bit of patience he was able to ask that burning question, “When?” It is truly unanswerable, perhaps if we came into this life with a barcode stating our entrance and our exit dates we would live differently, but that is not the case, so each day presents itself with Divine mystery, what miracles, what challenges will this day bring?.
I like to speak in analogies because it makes profound questions easier to digest. So I offered this to my patient and his wife who was holding his hand: Life is like spinach –it’s good for you and makes you grow stronger. Death is like ice cream-it comes at the end but it’s delicious, sweet and puts you in a happy place. We laugh, indeed we have all stared at that lump of green on our plate knowing we must consume the challenges life brings but always leaving a spot for ice cream!