by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
March 18, 2002
LILACS, WHITE CAPS, AND SOULS THAT SMOULDER
SAN DIEGO -- As I dropped down from the coastal hills toward the ocean today I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the road. The ocean was positively alive -- whitecaps like I haven't seen in my adult life, if ever.
Colors, too; several shades of greens and blues: cornflower blue the medium depths, dark slate blue out in the deep areas and a minty, iridescent foam green in the small waves as they arched to break on the shore. Better than any Impressionist's static attempt to capture light and movement, it was something out of St. John's Revelation, a living creature.
The white-whipped waves, millions of them all the way to the horizon, literally took my breath away. I watched from out in front of my patient's home as the seagull's and a few token pelicans hovered above me on great upward currents of salt air. None of them seemed too botherd to flap their wings. They soared aloft in formation, their wings still, drifting only slightly to the left and right in unison.
I found myself standing mouth open and in the middle of the road, my astonishment simply too great to hide. I pulled myself together and as I walked up the front steps to see my friend; I knew she hadn't seen any of it.
As usual, she was up on the second floor, on a certain spot on her couch, hunched over and wanting to die.
She'd just spent three weeks in the psychiatric ward and had returned home worse than when she went in. No medications seemed to help her; nothing did. I found myself praying as I walked down the hall towards her door, asking God for something to give her that would bring comfort and strength. I knew I had absolutely nothing to give her that would make any difference.
Strangely enough, after a brief bit of conversation, I found myself becoming unusually direct with her. She had just finished telling me what a relief death would be to her. I told her that I was sure it would be. She looked up at me stunned.
She'd expected me to try to talk her out of her despair. I surprised myself with the tack I was taking. "If you are really serious about it, I said, "you can decide to die and your body will obey." She looked at me as if I'd betrayed her. I started to go on but she silenced me.
"I don't want to die -- I want to live," she said through dark eyes wide, pleading. "All right, then," I answered her softly. "Make the decision to live."
Same day, different part of town; another elderly lady on hospice was following through with a decision of her own.
Her diagnosis was terminal, and she was letting go. I'd gotten her a hospital bed early in the day so that she could sit upright to relieve her difficult breathing. We'd started oxygen at two liters per minute and morphine every two hours for respiratory distress and breakthrough pain. She was completely at peace. The same ocean breeze was coming in through the window at the head of her bed.
I thought of the last time we went out to lunch together. She'd had two cups of hot chocolate, quiche and a mound of purple grapes. She almost ignored the quiche but relished every single grape and stuffed her mouth full until she looked like a squirrel. We split some pecan pie; I took her home and tucked her into bed for an afternoon nap.
Now I was tucking her in for a very long nap indeed.
She told one of the aides the week previous after waking from sleep that she had been dreaming of flowers, all different kinds of flowers. I liked picturing her laughing with her head thrown characteristically back, in a field of flowers. Someone told me today she loved lilacs. I only wish I would have known that a long time ago.
For one woman, it is time to go. I am helping her to die well, free of pain and prepared to soar on the coming winds of the spirit. For the other woman life, not death, is her imperative. How can I persuade her that life is beautiful and good, though dangerous; that it can be joyous and exhilarating, as well as sorrowful?
Over and over again, I am humbled by the sovereignty of the human spirit. The power we hold in our hearts and minds is inviolate. I can only pray the winds that be will breathe renewed fire into this woman's frozen soul.
And, of course, I will do my part to blow gently on any coals that still smolder.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and mother living in San Diego. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org