The soft light in a hospital room at night can be so inviting. This was the case one night when I peeked into a room to make sure the patient was awake before walking in. I found out the warm glow had nothing to do with the lights, but I didn’t know that at first.
The friendly face that greeted me had tired-looking eyes. When I told him I was there to make him some visual word medicine, he immediately said he wanted RELIEF. And I immediately felt the sensation I get when I know a patient has asked for exactly what they need.
As I pulled out my crayons, I asked what sort of relief he was thinking about. He said it wasn’t physical, because with a brain tumor there isn’t much pain. What he needed was simply to feel the big sigh that comes when the crisis has ended.
He said he doesn’t worry about too many things, anymore. His situation has made him realize how much of a waste that is. I asked what still sits in his worry bucket, if anything. His kids, he said. He worries about how they’ll take his death.
From there I listened as he told me how reasonable he has become, after making too many rash and stupid decisions when he was younger. I listened as he described his many times in prison, including what he learned about working the system and looking as if he was a model prisoner. I listened as he described his happy childhood, out of which nothing should have led to his life as a felon. I listened as he listed the many types of jobs he’s had, and the homelessness he’d chosen over working sometimes, and the drugs he never used but were around him all the time. I listened as he talked about the fears that kept him from doing things; that made him imagine only the worst outcomes; that got in the way of what he was really here to do.
I was moved by his honesty. And by his philosophical view on things. I told him that. He said it all gets pretty simple when you know your time is limited. He isn’t afraid to die. He doesn’t want to, but he isn’t afraid of it. He described being born and not knowing what was ahead in life, and said death is no different. We just don’t know what we’re heading into.
I handed him his word and told him I was inspired by him and felt that came through in my art. He kept saying how pretty it was. Then he asked me what MY word was. As I pondered what medicine I needed right then, I realized there might be no better word for me than RELIEF.
His face lit up the room.
He said, I’m not looking for a miracle here. I just want some relief.
I said, yes, I completely know the feeling. And I loved that he helped me think about not asking for the world, but just for what I need.
He knew, as I did, that he was just as much a healer for me as I was for him. And I think that 56 year-old man dying of a brain tumor is taking that nugget, tucked safely within his heart, into the great unknown.
© 2016 Kathy Curtis