In my department I work with many chronically ill patients. I see these patients week after week, month after month, year after year. I see those who struggle to make an appointment because they have exhausted all resources; family, friends, church members. The person is still ill, but the novelty of that illness is worn off, and they have moved on with their lives. I see this daily, and it really never strikes me as unusual, which is a definite testimony to the thickening of my skin over these past years as a nurse.
However, while I have become accustomed to this state of unintentional neglect, I am still refreshed by the display of love I find steadily offered to a small handful of patients who are blessed beyond measure to be loved in all and through all things.
Love is a big sister who comes to every one of her blind sister's appointments. The trip to the hospital is over 150 miles away from home, and it often turns into drawn out visits that extend into days or weeks. The baby sister has breast cancer, kidney failure, and had a stroke last week. The big sister is in her fifties and the "baby" sister is staring fifty in the face, but the love is there. Love is the ferocious protective streak that demands she bully every single nurse into giving her sister the absolute best care, and badger the doctors until she understands EXACTLY what is happening and planned for her sister. Love works patiently and diligently to help her sister memorize the sequence of buttons to push on her insulin pump so that she can manage her own blood sugar and not have to count on another to manage it. Love is sleepless, cold nights in an ICU waiting room where none of the chairs recline, you are surrounded by strangers, and still determining to stay Love is not caring if you are on every single persons last nerve as you ask questions and make demands and push, push, push... because their convenience is not worth your sister's health.
Love is the mother sitting on a pillar in the hallway outside of the ICU with a statue of Jesus holding a small child. She is propped up by the statue. Her shoulders are slumped, her face is wan and she is not sure how her stubborn daughter will deal with the loss of yet another piece of freedom. But love stays and it waits. And prays. And offers moments of humor where they can be found.
Even when it is nowhere to be found.
Love is getting up and taking care of your wife every single day. Endlessly rearranging that pillow that just never lies just right under the right hip. Sponge baths. Laundry. Using the church bus because it has a wheelchair lift. Getting up, cooking breakfast, helping her dress. Lifting her from the bed to the wheelchair. Loading into that bus, and driving to the hospital for an endless round of appointments. Staying for the entire day when the schedule gets delayed from one appointment to the next, and additional procedures added on unexpectedly.
Today she is weepy. The addition of a long term IV that is designed to make their life more simple comes as a blow. A visible reminder of her illness and that she is not getting better. Love continues to smile, to stroke the hand, to say "It's okay. You will be okay. We will do this. Don't worry."
The smile is tight, the eyes are weary, but the over all spirit of joy in caring for his wife is there. When asked how he is doing, or offering to help merge some appointments to save trips, love answers, "Well, at least I'm retired. I don't have anything to do anyway but take her around."
The care is exhausting. It is nonstop and day in day out. It is physically exhausting. It is emotionally devastating. The caregiver will determine to be strong because she can't right now. It is all she can do to face an illness that was never expected.
Love is an action. It is not an emotion that will ebb and flow through the years. It is a decision and it is a determination to see through to the end when the trial is long and the suffering is immense.
I think one of the things about love is that it is NOT in response to a situation, or something done FOR you, rather it is an outflow of a decision you have already made. You can't decide that you are going to love someone through a difficult time unless you already purposed that you were going to love them BEFORE the crisis occurred. Love given in response to something done for you is easy.
Love given in a time of crisis can even be easy. Particularly if the crisis is short term. The illness occurs and suddenly you are aware of what the sick person means to you and you are eager and happy to help them in their time of need. There is great reward and even personal satisfaction in leaving and saying, "I'm so glad I was able to go clean their house today." That love is easy and freely given. And while it is certainly needed and appreciated in the persons time of need, it is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the love I'm privileged to observe.
The person who relentlessly pours themselves into another life for the long haul inspires me the most. Love found at the bedside for every single procedure months, years into the illness. Love given day in and out with relentless demand and no horizon within view is a thing of true beauty.
Love is deciding when you will allow them to go with your blessing. Clasping that hand held so fiercely through months of illness, and telling them goodbye, that you love them "It's okay. I will be okay. I can do this. Don't worry."
I am blessed to see it.