An extraordinary amount of time has passed since I last wrote publicly, which either means my brain is full of thoughts needing to be penned and sorted out or full of unprocessed experiences and ideas that don’t yet seem coherent enough to be whole and ready for complete sentences. Maybe a little bit of both. Mostly, I think, the latter.
Several days ago I received a check in the mail for my contributions to a book project that will be published this Fall. Two days later I sent a letter off to The Good Poet in Canada, who had said in his previous correspondence:
“It’s not easy to be a poet. (Even one like me). In 2015 my book sold 6 copoes (I am serious). When you sell 6 copies in 12 months...you wonder does anyone give a rat’s ---? And then I get a lengthy epistle from J Richerson, and I get back to work on my latest draft.”
“Keep writing, Poet,” I replied in pen. “Most of the Greats weren’t truly discovered until they were gone. But they wrote/painted/created anyway--for the love of it, and for the love of humanity. Your words touch souls, deeply, and that is what matters. None of your friends care if you’re a bestseller, and none of mine do either. We perfect our craft for the joy of it...and because we can’t not. Love and Peace. Signed, Jordan your Friend.”
Yesterday, I received an email from a longtime international friend, proposing that I become the copywriter for her up-and-coming company and receive full compensation. Today I took a break from practice exams to pen a couple notes--one to a pen pal and one to a best friend who needed to be congratulated on big news. These events served to remind me that writing is, in fact, something I do--and that it’s important that I write for writing’s sake.
The issue these past five weeks has been...confidentiality. I am spending this semester working as a student nurse: 3-4 days a week, 12-hour shifts, in various hospitals and with various preceptors. Sometimes I work days, sometimes nights. During my first three-week rotation, I saw a lot of death. I hadn’t prepared for it to be that way...I didn’t know that "Actively Dying" would be the condition of most of my patients, but it was. I spent a lot of time in dark hospital rooms, just me and a dying patient, holding a hand or reading some Psalms or humming lullabies...trying to bring peace into what is, for some, a frightening transition. Because of HIPPA and other confidentiality mandates, I didn’t know how much of my experiences I could share publicly, especially during the weeks I was actually experiencing them. It’s alright to speak of them now, in the abstract as I’m doing here, but I cannot say much more.
Watching a fellow human’s heart stop does something, psychologically, to a person. I don’t know if the effect is positive or negative or neutral, but it’s...something. You blink your eyes and the monitor flatlines--big red X’s next to “HR, BP,O2 sat%.” You can be taking a blood pressure and get a 0/0 reading; walk into a room to do some charting and hear a final breath.
From a scientific and medical perspective, death makes perfect sense. When organs get old and/or sick, they get tired. The heart starts pumping really fast to try to get them more blood so that they’ll perk up. But a heart can’t sustain that sort of rapid rate for very long, and eventually it too will get so tired that it just has to quit. The lungs let out one last exhale and then blood flow ceases. When you see this process time and again, it is easily reduced to a simple and understandable physiologic process--as if bodies are machines with parts that are irreplaceable and eventually wear out. When we do postmortem care, it is obvious that there is a difference between those of us who are living and breathing and the body on the table. What's also obvious is that the difference isn’t merely physiological, it is clearly spiritual as well. That body is missing something those of us standing over it possess--more than a beating heart and working lungs, it is missing a soul.
When I arrive home in the morning and shower by candelight and lay in bed recounting the night’s events, the spirituality of death and loss of life becomes clear in a way it hadn’t been while I was in the thick of the Care of the Dying, on hours 3, 8, 11 of shift. I’m able to think about it for a few moments before drifting off into a deep slumber to be awakened by my Forest Sounds alarm clock at 4:30 in the afternoon. Head back to the hospital and do it all over again.
I don’t think I’ve adequately processed my experiences...and I’m not sure I ever will. What I am learning is that most humans live in a constant state of Much Unprocessed. There is simply not enough time to absorb, categorize, and understand all we see and do here on earth. We must keep putting one foot in front of the other to work hard, live well, and love WHOEVER is in front of us. We are more reslient than we know. We process what we can, and the rest we leave to God and ashes to ashes...
It’s amazing to me that any of us get out of bed in the morning, to be honest, with all our internal battles and the heavy stuff we’ve experienced and never processed. Life takes its toll and then we...just keep on and keep on keeping on.
I’m in a more joyful set of clinicals, right now. Helping mamas birth babies is my happy place.
But I keep a little list in the back of the moleskine I carry around in the pocket of my scrubs--of those I’ve loved on and helped ease into the transition of eternity--to remind me that we’re all Actively Dying. Some more obviously than others, but each of us in time. One day my initials will be scrawled in the back of a book a twenty-something nursing student carries around in her back pocket: JR 1993-20__.
The circle of life goes ‘round and round here on our little blue speck in the midst of the cosmos.
And so as we actively die, we actively live...and we wait in hopeful anticipation for the day when All Things will be Restored to Glory, when death will cease and Life will Reign, and when Jesus Christ himself will be here to resurrect bodies and reunite them with souls.
One more thing:
I have noticed a marked difference in the dying-experiences of those who believe in Jesus and have set their sights on an Heavenly eternity with Him...and those who do not know Jesus Christ and have not accepted His grace. This is not a scare-tactic; it is the truth, as I have seen it. The former often pass quietly and say things like: “I’m ready to be with my Lord.” The latter often describe flying bugs and hairy winged creatures...and the sensation of being strangled, unable to breathe, or horribly uncomfortable. This is a trend I’ve witnessed enough that I feel it is worth mentioning. You may have different experiences, and I believe you. I’m not here to discount anyone else’s testimonies of being with those who are dying...only to add my own to what is already being shared. Because I believe in a life after this one, it makes sense to me that those nearing the threshold may catch glimpses of it. I think the difference between the Glimpses is worth noting.
Alas. Time to start winding down so I can get eight hours of shuteye in before getting up to catch the bus in the morning.
May God continue to grant us all the strength to live life Unprocessed...and to trust that He holds the map to this jigsaw puzzle we mostly don’t understand.
Grace and Peace.
hey, i'm jordan.
i write here because i think our words are worth sharing.