Yesterday, I finished up around 2.30pm at my dental practice with a last emergency patient before we closed (on account of Covid-19) for these next two and a half weeks for routine dentistry. Incidentally, best 'emergency' ever- a patient with a pair of dentures I just delivered who could not remove them himself! If you know anyone who wears dentures, its the kind of problem a physician of the masticatory system :-) such as myself, LOVES.
Anyway, I then had some time to attend to a call I have been needing to make since I heard a couple of weeks ago that a dear lady patient of ours had died. She needed quite a bit of work 3 years or so back. She was already quite delicate, with a number of health issues and had a mouthful of failing crowns that were causing dental infections and periodontal issues. This is turn (as it will without fail) put a huge inflammatory load on her already frail system. So we saw her a lot, over quite some time. On top of all else, she also had Parkinson's, so the work was not easy on her, or on us. But she was such a sweetheart, that I loved having her in the chair (more than she could ever love being in it, I am sure!).
She had a pair of the clearest, most lovely grey-blue eyes you could imagine, dancing with the light of humour, even as she struggled to get her words out or move her body through space. She was still feisty and so dang smart, even with all the ravages of her ill-health. She spoke with a New England drawl, entertained us with stories of her days as a high powered lady realtor and told us how, despite being as white as a porcelain doll, she came to have a Mexican name (a story for another time). She was always brought to her appointments by her husband, which was part of the delight of her visits because he is a rarest gem of a man. The way we saw him look after her was incredible to witness. They lived alone and he was her primary caretaker, though as she declined more over the past year, he had some in-home help for a few hours every day to take care of her baths. He treated her like the most precious flower and spoke to her ever so gently as he took her to the bathroom, or transferred her in and out of the dental chair from/to her walker. And let me tell you, this man flossed and brushed his wife's teeth for her because she simply could not do it.
So I phone her husband yesterday to offer my condolences. My intention was to let him know that I would forever hold the memory of her, for all the things I loved about her. But I also wanted him to know that I would hold the memory of the couple that they were and the love that they nourished over 66 years of marriage. He is now 86 years old and his partner- no, a large part of himself- is no longer on this plane of existence. I asked him if she went peacefully- and he began to recount the details of her last months, his words rolling over themselves in a way that let me understand he needed to tell this story. By the grace of God, I was privileged to be there to hear it.
He spoke of a terrible pain that began in her abdomen and several trips to the ER over Christmas and in early January. No specific reason was ever found for it and their family physician finally sat him down and said that there were some pains whose origins could never be diagnosed. It was the doctor's sense that she was actively dying and should be admitted to hospice. So that's what happened. And her husband spent every waking hour there with her for her last 3 weeks on this earth.
By this time, he and I were both crying. I was valiantly trying to make it less obvious. But when I asked if he was with her when she left, and he simply said: "Yes. She died in my arms". Well, I lost it. I apologized to him for not being very helpful and then, true to form, this compassionate, lovely man turned around and consoled me!
As I reflect on this, maybe it wasn't at all professional for me to show my emotion like that. But screw it. We had moments of profoundly real human connection throughout that phone call that I won't ever forget. I was able to thank the pure, beautiful soul he is (with words that could never be adequate enough-but at least were affirmed aloud), for showing me, in a very literal way, what love and commitment truly mean. What he did over the last 15 years of their marriage was the furthest thing from easy or fun. But still, they both smiled and laughed and stuck with each other to the very, very end.
My image is that there was a gentle, reverent handing over of this little lady- from one pair of human arms and one human heart, to the Arms of The Beloved whose Heart holds us all, forever.
I am a field of awareness. Any thing beyond that is identification with form...