May 3rd 2008

When there is no hope, love, laughter

Posted in Helen & Warren, Izzy, Lenore

Warren, Izzy, this afternoon. Two friends comforting one another

May 3, 2008 – It was a Friday night, and it could have been any group of friends gathering after dinner to talk, and you would think that if you didn’t notice the woman so still, barely moving or breathing in the hospital bed amidst all of the tubes and cannisters, lotions and pills. For a few minutes, you could forget what was about to happen, what we all knew was about to happen, the only ending usually possible in the world of Hospice.
Warren was beaming, listening to the stories, nodding and smiling, looking over at his wife of 60 years every few seconds. His daughter Berta and her husband Bob and their two children, Jessie and Brandi, were telling stories about their beloved dog Pepper, in the affectionate, beaming way dog lovers tell stories about their dogs. I was telling stories about my dogs, the farm, the movie crew that invaded my life for a few months, the movie dogs.
Lenore and Izzy were working the room, Lenore trailing smiles and laughter everywhere she went, the Hound of Love doing her thing, and Izzy doing his advanced social work, working the room one person at a time. We were all laughing, smiling, nodding. There was a lot of  warmth in the room, everyone well aware of why we were all there, yet we also knew that the experience was not only about grief.
We were all, for a few minutes, having a good time, and Warren was stepping out of himself for a bit, enjoying his family, being the Pater Familias, and once in awhile I would look up at the woman in the bed, and blink, and come back to earth and at one point, I asked myself, so where is God?, that he would allow Helen to suffer for so long, put Warren through this, test him this way, and at that point, I realized that this scene didn’t mean God wasn’t there, but that this, perhaps is what God is really like, bringing this merriment and comfort into a place where there was no hope, the piercing juxtaposition of gaiety and enormous grief etched in Warren’s every wrinkle, showing in between the smiles.
This wasn’t just about death and loss, but life.
Grief is, after all, an unnatural state, and as powerful as it is, it lives alongside and battles other powerful emotions – friendship, laughter, a need to just live. Often in Hospice work, you see this warmth, laughter, joy even, side-by-side with pain and sadness. God, then, is not about sparing us pain but teaching us how to live with it, and beyond it.
In the middle of the night, Helen died, as we expected she would, and the next morning, when we all met, everyone said how wonderful the evening was, how glad they were that this was a time to laugh and step outside of that room, and how much Helen would have – possibly did – enjoy the laughter, as stories and laughter were so important to her.
Almost every night, as Warren and I talked, Helen would ask if it was okay for her to close her eyes and go to sleep. She loved listening to stories, she said, to hear Warren solve the problems of the world.
This, I understood, was why Warren was smiling, and everyone else could laugh. Helen was telling a story, too.

Izzy and Lenore: Comfort and joy