21 April 2011
I remember a year ago today with pain and wonder. I was beginning to really push Oma. We now had the pieces for her recovery assembled. Her friends had visited her and encouraged her. Anna was caring for her. Her doctors were attending her and adding fluids to the mix with an infusion. The physical therapist had given us exercises. The wheelchair was ready. We were cooking for her and sitting with her and praying for her. We just needed her to get on board with the notion that she would get out of bed.
Oma was very tired by this time of day because she was staying awake much of the night. She would ring for Anna or call out for me through the night. We tried to not attend to her at night to encourage her to sleep. Sometimes I’d just sit with her silently. Sometimes I wouldn’t do that much. But it was hard to here the calls through the night, and it was even more frustrating that then she would not have the energy to work on her recovery in the daytime. She asked for peace in the daytime, we would pray for peace at night.
When I asked Oma if she wanted to get better, she would tell me that, of course, yes, she did. Tomorrow. Not today. Today she wanted peace. I focussed on tomorrow, how would we reach that tomorrow without taking some action today? I pressed her to exercise and especially to get in the wheelchair. She simply had to sit up if she was to improve. In retrospect, I think I lost track of today. Oma told me she wanted to get out of bed tomorrow, but today she wanted peace. Why could I not give her that peace today, and simply let tomorrow take care of itself when we got there?
One of the great lessons of my time with Oma these last weeks was to learn to focus on the moment. Unfortunately I have not yet mastered this and I certainly was not practicing it with her. A year ago today I captured Oma’s frustration and anguish in pictures and sound. I share them here as a reminder, we don’t have to do this. It was in my power to give Oma exactly what she wanted, I refused. Did I win? No, Oma got what she wanted anyway. I could have been a lot more graceful in granting her that wish, though.
Here is an MP3 recording and translated transcript of a conversation one year ago today.
Eric: OK, so you’ll get out of bed in the morning? Say that again. We have to exercise more today, but tomorrow…
Oma: Today is peace.
E: How often will we get in the wheelchair tomorrow?
O: Two times.
E: And how many times will we do the exercises today? We must exercise a little more today.
O: No more.
O: Eric, please leave me in peace. Please.
E: Before lunch we will exercise more.
E: Yes, sure. And then I’ll leave you in peace. (laughs)
O: (voice raising) Please, Eric, (now crying out, waving her arms in prayer) please, Eric, leave me in peace!
E: That’s good, at least you exercised your arms a bit when you prayed like that.
E: Yea. That was good. You should also pray with your feet. So tomorrow we will get in the wheelchair twice. How many times will we do the exercises, the practice from the physical therapist? Four times?
E: Then how many times? We should do this five times each day, he said. Five times a day. This is your pain medication, the exercise. You said no to four times. So how many? Should we do this five times tomorrow.
E: Then how many times will we do this tomorrow? The exercise. (laughs) So tell me.
O: (whispers) Please, leave me in peace.
E: Hey, you only have to tell me, promise, how many times will we do this…
O: Tomorrow, two times.
E: Two times in the wheelchair. But we also have to do the exercises.
O: Yes, the exercises we will do one time.
E: No. That’s not enough, Oma. That is definitely not enough, he said five times each day.
O: (quietly) Please.
E: So you… (pauses) …it has to be more than once.
O: (weakly) No.
E: Yes, it must.
O: (very weakly) Please, can you leave me in peace.
E: Not yet, because you said one time and that’s not enough, and you know that. And it is daytime, you don’t need peace in the day. Once you get out of bed you can go in another room, close the door, and then I would not be able to get in. (sighs and pauses) I am happy that you at least don’t have any pain right now. That’s good. But look, later it will hurt again, and then you will know that the exercises were not enough today.
O: (more strongly) Please, Eric, leave me now in peace.
When I next have a chance to care for someone I love I hope I look at them, listen to them. There are times when I will push just as hard as I did with Oma, but just maybe I will also recognize the times when the person I love is on a different path from mine, and have the grace to accompany them rather than trying to yank them back to my destination.