If the past couple of weeks have taught me nothing else, it has taught me about darkness and light, two opposites that exist together, both visually and spiritually. Recently, darkness has been a daily presence on the long-term care unit where I work. It crept in silently, imposing itself on myself and others. We tried to evade the darkness, but that only kept us from noticing how firmly it had us in its grip. Darkness presented itself in the form of fear, of uncertainty, and eventually of death. It has been a sad week for all who have been affected by its presence, but life goes on.
Working in a nursing home teaches you about death. When I started working in long-term care and had my first up-close experience with death, I shook with fear. My job was to care for the body of the deceased, to clean and make it ready for the funeral home to come and collect. I remember being unable to handle it and felt out of control. It was surreal and difficult to comprehend. Where had this person gone and what was the significance of the now “empty” body? The empty vessel looked peaceful, it was no longer struggling to breathe, taking in sharp, quick and gasping breaths. There was no movement at all. It seemed that the stillness and peacefulness would be less scary, but it was not. To me, the lack of spirit felt frightening and touching the body felt uncomfortable.
After more than twelve years working in this business, I have become more comfortable with death. As a hospice aide, my orientation included learning about the dying and the grieving processes. I learned how to support those who were dying and about the stages of grieving that followed death. I visited and cared for many people who were in various stages of the dying and began to notice something about them. It was a feeling that I had never had before. I felt a sense of honor in the presence of my patients, like they were different than me, more special in some way. They were gentle and calm and I felt that I was doing something important by taking care of them. I wondered, were they aware of how close they were to leaving this world? Did they know something, see something, or feel something that I couldn’t? I wanted to know more.
This was one of those rare weeks when we have multiple deaths happening in our facility. It deeply affects all of us even though we become accustomed to it. It is the nature of our work, caring for the sick and elderly. While no one verbalizes the impact of this darkness, it is felt by us all. Some of these people have been in our care for years. We feel they are a part of our family. We also show support for their family members and help make them as comfortable as possible as they lose their loved one. It isn’t easy work, but it is work we love, and I find that in working with that darkness, I am able to see the light. Sometimes it is a light at the end of the tunnel. The light that presents itself as the darkness and pain fades away. The light that surrounds the body as the spirit leaves for another place. The light that takes away the person’s suffering. It is also present as a starting place for healing, for when the darkness fades, we can then feel what is left and that is light and life. It always goes on, though it may not look the same. I have come to smile as the light enters. I know when it is there and it feels like peace. Sometimes it comes alongside the darkness. They coexist as though joined together. They know each other intimately and dance in and out in a beautiful fluid motion. It is the ebb and flow of life.
I am grateful for those who have passed through my life, who have shown me the darkness and the light. Their individual impact on me may fade over the years, it is a hazard of this job, but collectively they have left me changed. I am also grateful for the many wonderful family members I’ve met over the years. They have challenged me to learn so much more about myself. They have opened my eyes to the dark and the light that I possess. They have given me an opportunity to grow.
My task this week is to pay attention to the darkness and the light as it ebbs and flows through my life. When is it present and am I aware of its affect on me? Am I aware of the darkness or light within me when I am dealing with challenging situations? Sometimes the darkness we see in others is present within ourselves. The same can be said for the light. Each moment, both dark and light have something to offer. What do they offer to you?
Yours in transformation,