In that sentence, in that thought, the plural form is the strangest part.
I've been doing the death-in-the-headspace thing a lot lately, partly because of my patients and partly because of my aunt.
A side note: the previous entry, the one that Jodi responded to, had a long section about the decision my aunt made earlier this week to die. After I'd posted it, I got an email from Mom saying that she had indeed died, early this morning, and so I edited that portion out. It seemed inappropriate, somehow. She'd made her decision and followed through, and I didn't want to dissect it after the fact.
Anyway, back to the death-in-the-head thing.
The most sobering thing about doing what I do for a living is this: it means that I have done something that, as far as I know, the rest of my immediate family has not. I've done it enough that it's become, at least in the outlines, fairly routine.
I've hugged family members. I've answered the call bell or the person who comes out into the hall with *that tone of voice* or *that look* that means that the person in the bed has quit breathing. I've caught up another nurse on the way to the room to verify the lack of a heartbeat. I've called more residents than I care to think about to verify our verification and chart time of death. I've walked them through the paperwork and told them where to sign.
And, more than that, I've been alone with a number of dead people. The dead are peaceful; they don't ask for cups of coffee when they're NPO or talk politics. I've bathed bodies, removed tubes and wires and IVs, wiped off things I couldn't identify and would rather not think about. I've talked to those people as I've done it, hoping that maybe my persistence in treating them as a living person would speed their souls on to wherever souls go.
I always leave the window open when I do this, no matter the weather. If I have a soul, and if it leaves my body after I die, I do not want to have to work to get outside and fly away. No elevators for me; give me an open window. Supersitious, yes, but part of the private ritual I have.
None of this is stuff my parents have done. My folks, who have a wider experience of life and a much greater understanding both of how stupid and how wonderful people can be, have not (to my knowledge) been around when somebody's died and then taken care of the body. I know my sister hasn't, or I would've heard about it already.
More than that, I've done it *multiple times*. Which is a stunner, when you think about it.
It opens an experiential gulf that I'd not thought about before today. Those of us who midwife the dying are a weird group; we're not generally skeeved out or frightened by the thing that is most taboo in our culture. Most of us have dissected at least portions of bodies; all of us have talked to those still living about the process of dying. It's hard work, as hard as having a baby, and with much the same rhythm as birthing.
The people who understand that, who don't get flipped out by the thought of a person not being immediately available in the body, tend to get chosen for the palliative care assignments on our floor. Oh, yeah, we always give the newest nurse a couple of DNRs who are about to go, just to make sure they can handle it, but after that, there's a cadre of us who seem to get assigned the dying and soon-to-be-dead over and over.
We self-select through our attitudes and our actions. The folks who make the assignments recognize that.
There's still a part of me that wonders, every time one of my patients dies, what on earth those idiots at the nursing school were thinking when they gave me my degree. What made them think that I could do this well? Why am *I* the one that has to be the shoulder and comfort for the living? I ask that not because it's a burden but because I feel so unqualified. The person who takes care of your dying father should be unflappable. Calm. Sympathetic but not overwhelmed by emotion. Distant enough to give you privacy, but not appear cold. I feel too imperfect, too undeserving, to do that job.
And every time, that gulf that lies between my and my folks and my sister, between me and Chef Boy, between me and the other average Janes on the street, grows a little wider. It gets a little deeper.
But I don't worry. I have the gut feeling that this is a gulf that will eventually grow wide enough that I'm back on the same side as everybody else. It'll be more like a discarded orange peel and less like an enforced distance. It'll be interesting to watch that process happen.