During the summer of 2000 I found myself on the island of Grand Cayman taking a two-week certification course for scuba diving. I was 30 years old and “highly” stressed out. Oh, my life was full of woe back then, for I had just completed my MBA at the University of Denver and had to leave my beloved Summit County, Colorado (where it is extremely difficult to earn a salary strong enough to pay off an MBA) for my former home of Central Ohio. Yes, I moved back home. With my parents. And as I stated above, I was 30.
To my credit, however, I picked up the adulting gig pretty quickly. Within a year I was an HR manager making a respectable salary, got a spouse, a baby, a reasonably priced starter home in the suburbs… all within a year. It certainly wasn’t the vision I had for myself when I was in Grand Cayman “recovering” from my life as a student in a ski town, but I was making it work. And despite never wanting to be anywhere near infants/toddlers/anything-that’s-sticky, I found motherhood to be quite compelling. I was completely captivated by these little nuggets of joy.
So what, Sarah? We’ve all heard this story before. We know you’re sad because you never thought you could love someone like you love your children and how cruel this life has been because you have to sit and watch them hurt knowing there’s not a thing you can do for either one of them. We know.
I know. I’m just making conversation because I think I’ve forgotten how to do it. I see people in public and words form in my brain but my mouth can’t process it so I say a word like “moop” and realize how ridiculous it sounds and burst into tears. At Safeway. Or the bank. Or in the kitchen. Anywhere, really. I never know when it’s going to come.
It feels like we were introduced to this hospice team a million years ago. It’s amazing how quickly they become a part of the family, like they’ve been around forever and know every intimate detail of your dirty life. But they aren’t there to expose it. They aren’t involved because they’re nosy. They aren’t in it for the juicy gossip. They’re in it because it’s the end of someone’s life and someone has to be there to do it with grace. That’s not me at this point. I’m not doing this with grace. I can’t fucking stand this. But I want to soak in every minute because that’s all there is.
That’s all there is.
And why I was remembering my unpaid sabbatical in Grand Cayman was because it taught me something vital: how to breathe. And, God, isn’t that trite… just breathe, dear Sarah, just breathe. But dammit if it doesn’t work. Breathing works. It keeps us alive. And for the times that our body is too overwhelmed to do it on its own, you die for a second and then remember why you’re here… to keep breathing another day. At least until you’re out of breath.
I learned underwater that when you find the perfect balance, as you inhale, you rise. When you exhale, you sink. Of course, this life is so out of balance there’s a lot of kicking and flailing about, but bringing your mind back to the breath will eventually bring you through. Move forward through the water. Inhale; rise. Exhale; sink. A pattern with momentum and that much control will have you flitting through life like a mermaid. If only I could find a pattern.
I’m quietly watching as my son’s breath runs out. And that is excruciating. Some days I don’t want to. Then I remember that this is my flipping journey and I’m not going to miss a moment of it. If I’m supposed to sit by my son’s side as he slips off this mortal coil, then I’m in 1000%. I will breathe through it. Just like I breathed through his birth, I will breathe through piece of the journey, too.
When the nurse on-call tells you it’s time to open the “comfort kit” you’ve stored in the refrigerator for when things take a turn for the worse, just breathe.
When they suggest buying very dark sheets so you won’t be shocked by the amount of blood loss, just breathe.
When he finally asks for a tiny bit of comfort and lays his head on your shoulder just like he did when he was a toddler, just breathe.
End of life is still a part of life, friends. And even though the breathing gets more difficult, we’re still alive.