Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye

My father died when I was less than 3 months into my new position as a Home Health Hospice Nurse. Barely off orientation. Much as I cherish my new job – a job I specifically went to nursing school to train for back in 2003 – a job I spent over a decade of preparing for via my many roles as an Oncology Nurse – a job that suddenly I felt trapped in, when I needed time to heal from my own loss.

While as a Quaker, I sincerely view the profession of nursing as a role of service, I also work for my, and my family’s, health insurance benefits.
I am a pre-existing condition. A walking, talking, pre-existing condition.
Born with a deformed kidney, I was extremely ill for the first 2 years of my life. Some kind and talented doctors at UCSF removed the offending organ, and I became a poster child for Healthy Living with a Solitary Kidney.
At the age of 37, just after I graduated from nursing school, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s is a shit-ton of fun. Shits, giggles, scar tissue all over my small intestine.

But anyway. I always cringe when people say that Hospice Nurses are saints. Or angels. I am neither. Not by a long shot. I love the work; I feel tremendous gratitude for my job. That said, I also do it for paycheck. Let’s be real.

I need my fücking health insurance.

So, Bob King dies when I am so new to the Hospice organization towards which I spent 15 years of volunteering, studying, and working, to join, that I have no PTO. I was generously granted 3 paid days of Bereavement Leave (for which I am grateful), but then the greatest irony of my life unfolds: The Hospice Nurse can’t take a leave of absence to mourn her own father’s death.

Working my Hospice shifts while grieving has been tricky. How does one feel absolutely nothing, and then almost simultaneously, absolutely everything, as my son used to say when he was young, at the whole same time?!

When a person wants to work for Hospice, or even volunteer for Hospice, they are asked to wait at least 6 months, preferably a year, before they enter into the field.

If Bob had died in February, rather than May, I would likely not have been hired for my current position. They would have kindly and respectfully suggested I take some time to mourn & heal first.

Things have developed precariously since May 1st, the day my father died. There was a lapse in communication with my employer, and I was even scheduled to work the afternoon of my father’s interment at Willamette National Cemetery. Whoops! Fücking Whoops!
(We got it straightened out.)

However, as my manager and I have discussed, it is quite possible that there are no coincidences. Some of the home visits I have made in recent weeks, have been incredibly healing; I have felt that I was indeed In The Right Place At The Right Time.

Last night, I was asked to visit a home in a small town about an hour outside of Portland. A 90+ year old had just died, and I was there to support the bereaved spouse, and the patient’s daughter. Way too close to home, I thought initially.

The purpose of my visit was to support the family in any way needed: preparation of the deceased’s body for the journey to the crematorium, disposal of unused medications, anything and everything that the family might possibly need or want. Mostly, just presence. Holding Space with them, for them. Just being human, and understanding, and present in that sacred place and time.

The spouse told me that they had been married for 72 years. “Almost 73.”
I asked how they had met one another. The reply, “We were neighbors. We grew up together.” They had slept side by side together for over 72 years, always holding hands throughout the nights.

This was not the first time I had dreaded reporting for work. Often times, I’ll think of my father, and how I would either visit or call him on my way to work. My gut will clench, then drop, as I forget that he is gone, for just the briefest moment, and then…

But this was also not the first time that I drove away from a home at the end of the visit, feeling mystified by it all. In The Right Place At The Right Time. I’m doing exactly what I am meant to be doing, difficult as it may feel at times.

Sometimes, a certain song will come on the car radio when I’m driving alone; I feel my father’s presence, and my heart opens wide. Last night as I was driving away from this family’s home, a Natalie Cole version of Cole Porter’s 1944 song, Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, came on the radio. I’m not sure whose spirit was visiting me in my car at that moment, but someone’s sure was.

Everytime we say goodbye, I die a little
Everytime we say goodbye, I wonder why a little
Why the Gods above me, who must be in the know
Think so little of me, they allow you to go
When you’re near, there’s such an air of spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it
There’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to
Everytime we say goodbye

When you’re near, there’s such an air of spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it
There’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to
Everytime we say goodbye
(Lyrics and music by Cole Porter, published by Chappell & Company.)


(Photo cred: my personal stash. Bob King: October 1962)



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