Wednesday, March 31, 2010

First Lesson: People Just Really Need People.

How many times have you run into a friend at a store and said to them, "I have been meaning to call you, I have just been so busy."

How many times did you wish someone would just pop by? Of course, you don't invite people to pop by because it is just too much bother to clean up your house now, isn't it.

We all do it. And many of us feel so isolated and lonely most of the time. So it really doesn't make a lot of sense that we do not reach out more. That we don't notice people more. After all, most people do want to be noticed by you. They like it. And you like it, too.

Many times I have taken care of a patient whose one last wish is to reconnect with someone. It could be an old friend, a neighbor who was kind, a high school pal or a relative who they simply fell out of touch with. It seems so hard to re-connect after so much time has gone by. We worry they may not respond to our gesture. And so we do nothing.

Social networking sites have helped people with this a bit. More are reaching out this way on sites like Facebook. But it is not the same as a phone call or a heart-felt letter.

Reaching out when life is good and you are healthy can be a wonderful thing. Sure, you may encounter some uncomfortable moments. But 9 times out of 10, it will be great.

I remember a woman in her 60's who had hoped to reach out to her long-lost friend from elementary school. They lived not far from one another, but had a falling out over something that was forgotten, and remained apart for so many, many years. But the thing was, it was always nagging at this person. Like it was simmering in the background.

So, now that this woman was diagnosed with an illness that would probably shorten her life, she thought, what the hell, might as well call. What do I have to lose but a little pride.

And she did call. And her pride stayed intact. Her friend was thrilled to hear from her. She came over and they talked about boys they had once loved, girls they despised, and fun times they shared. They talked about their family, the trials and tribulations of life and they laughed and hugged and were so very, very happy. It was wonderful to see.

Many times, old friends only re-connect when they read an obituary in the paper and attend the viewing. Well, it is too late then. Much too late. So much is lost.

So, the first lesson I have had drilled into me over the years is this; we need each other. Life is all about connections. Whether it be a dear old friend or a new acquaintance, try to connect in some way. And try to stay connected. Even if it is just once a year.

I know we are all busy. We have jobs and kids and laundry and car pools and we never seem to have any extra time. Our houses are always messy and we would be embarrassed to have anyone over. Or we think we have gained too much weight. Maybe next year when I lose 10 pounds. Then I will call.

Yeah, right.

The thing is, no one cares if your home is messy or you gained weight. They are not there to see your home or judge you, they are there to connect with you. To talk. To enjoy the feeling of being noticed and cared about.

And, if I were to be honest, I would rather visit someone who lives in the real world and has a messy home. Much more comfortable for me. A perfect home somehow makes me feel, well, inadequate and uncomfortable. I enjoy chaos. I like your imperfect world, it so mirrors mine. And we all have that extra 10 pounds, so who cares anyway.

I recently reached out to a friend from high school who I had not seen for 30 years. We have become friends again. It has enriched my life so much and in so many ways. I have learned new things about myself and I truly love this person and have since the 9th grade. It would have been tragic not to have reconnected. I am so glad I did it, though it was not easy for me to do.

So, find the time. Do it. Just like the Nike ads say, Just Do It.

Reaching out is so worth it. It is like giving yourself a hug.

And we all deserve a hug.

Why I am starting this blog

We will all die. It is a simple truth that we all hate. But we live our lives pretending that this is just not a possibility. That death happens to others, or the elderly or the frail. But this is not true. Death sits on our shoulder. We just choose to ignore him.

Death scares people. It scares me, too. But not living life to the fullest should scare us even more. Many of us sleep-walk through our lives, never becoming truly aware until many times it is just too late.

I truly enjoy my job as a hospice nurse. Many would think it is sad, and it is, but it is truly an honor to be allowed into someone's life at this remarkable time. My only gift to them is hopefully to allow them to have a good death, on their terms.

I would like to honor my patients by sharing with you some of the wonderful lessons they have taught me. My life is so much richer for having met them. I am grateful every single day.

And so begins our journey forward from their journey onward.