She was scared tonight so I went in her room to sit with her and hold her hand. She's generally a pretty anxious person and the move from her home to a strange residential hospice would freak anyone out, so I didn't think too much of her behavior until she said "It's not going to kill me. Cancer's not going to kill me. I don't know what will. I don't know. I don't know...." trailing off and looking at the wall where she professed to seeing moving shapes. I asked her what was on her mind, what she was worrying about and she said "I'm here and I'm supposed to die and I don't know when it will happen or how it's going to happen...." I asked her if she was scared. She looked me straight in the eye for the first time in the conversation and said "Yes. Wouldn't you be?" All I could say was the truth. Yes.
We talked for a bit and a little while later the Director of the Hospice/Hospice Chaplain came in to sit with us per this woman's request. He spit a lot of bible verses at her and I could see her getting swallowed by his quick pace, big words and memorized verses in old school bible talk. He thought he was saving her, helping her find herself in God but she just looked so lost. After ten minutes of this she interrupted him and said "WHY? Why do you believe this? Why do you believe in all of this?" He looked as if he'd never been asked that question before. He looked shocked. Dumbfounded. Confused as to why a woman who professed to being a Catholic was questioning her founding beliefs so late in the game. He said "Because the bible tells me that it's the truth." Not a good enough answer for this woman. She turned to me and said "You're a young girl. Do you believe this? Why do you believe in all of this... stuff? You're young. You have no reason to believe, you have other things to believe in. Why?" I said a quick prayer for God to help me find the right words to give this woman her peace. "I do believe it. I know that I'm young, and also pretty dumb, but things have happened to me that aren't fair, just like they happen to everyone. And the only thing that gets me through the night and into the next morning is God, and knowing that He's on my side and He'll make everything alright in his own perfect timing. It's like how you were saying earlier, that you didn't believe love existed until you met your husband. It's like that. I can't see it, or touch it, but I KNOW that it's real because I can feel it in my heart. I can feel it." She nodded slowly. The conversation trailed off, call lights beeped, people needed to be toileted, and the night went on as my thoughts remained with her.
The thing is, she was asking the same questions I've been asking myself my whole life. And somehow by being asked by her, I answered them for myself. So I've spent the rest of tonight thinking about why I hold the beliefs I do, and it's come down to this: When I was 15, my friend Julia died. I stood in front of her open casket with all of our friends, all of us reacting and grieving in our own ways, yet still somehow so connected. I didn't know how to grieve. I was 15. My friend died. I was looking at her dead body with The Flaming Lips song "Do You Realize?" playing over and over through speakers next to the casket. I was barely crying at all, which I remember feeling really guilty about but I was in such shock because the person lying there wasn't her at all. It was someone who looked like her, with too much make-up and tinted-blue hands and glasses on just a little too straight. I didn't know where Julia had gone. And then it hit me. Of course. Of course she's in heaven. Even with her teenage sins, her rebellion, her numerous attempts at suicide, I KNEW. I knew it. I can't explain how powerful and all-encompassing and reassuring this feeling was. It wasn't a belief, and it wasn't faith. It was a God-given fact. My friend went to heaven. That's a fact. The intensity of that realization has never gone away and to this day I would still throw myself in front of a train for that belief. So... that's how I know there's a God and a heaven. I want to tell my patient that, to make her understand, but they always say "There's no tomorrow in hospice" so I don't know if I'll get the chance. I hope I do but either way, tonight was batshit crazy full of epiphanies and realizations and flashbacks. And I don't have the energy to edit this post or tie it up in a nice little bow for whoever might be reading this. So that's it. Goodnight.