Birthing and Dying: The Hospital as A Clean Well-Lighted Place

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in the Hospital ICU the past weeks – attending a loved one who went in fighting the flu, and then, according to the doctors, started moving past us all into a new phase of life called dying. In this case they tell us, the body moved there first; without our permission and to our great and painful sorrow.

When you spend a lot of time in a hospital loving a patient, life takes on a unique rhythm.  I know I’m not the first to notice this. There are those whose lives revolve around the caring of a loved one too often hospitalized. But for us it’s new.

The human body has certain rhythms that ground its days – the rise and set of the sun – essentials that help you know what day it is, the time – when to eat, and whether.  But after awhile in the ICU, time scrambles. Patients lose track of the days, and why they are there. Their sense of place releases, and they can drift into delirium.

Today, outside the ICU for a few moments, my husband and I sat side by side in the hospital cafeteria. Staring off together in the same direction, (though probably not into the same space), and it reminded me of a few things.

I thought about that wedding toast about how marriage consists, not of always seeing eye to eye, but rather of standing side by side looking in the same direction.

And I also thought about placelessness and the release from concrete connection.

Last summer, my husband and I similarly sat side by side, on the shore of the Big Lake – staring off, relishing the open. Sighing and leaning into the void, relaxing.

Today, space spread before us too, but it was not the freeing placelessness of the Great Lake and the night breeze on our face and the wonder of beauty. Today, it came to us as the void of unknowing, the wonder of how to let someone go, how to free them on to their journey into the vast.

Today, as I sat there in that clean, well-lighted place, I was reminded of another time in another hospital attending a transition. There, I had a similar disconnect from time and place.

But this time it was at life's beginning. I was attending a birthing; “doula-ing” my god-child into the world.

How different that time was. The exhaustion was there, the lack of definition.

There too, the awareness that this goes on, every minute, across the globe, for humans in every station. How common, yet how completely resolutely absolutely unique, for each one of us, in every single way.

How utterly human. This place, this placelessness. This life.

Filed under: Family, Great Lakes, Wilderness

Tags: doula, hospital, place

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