I don’t remember how I found the courage to step into the rooms of the dying, my heart beating like a little tin drum. Am I worthy? Do I know enough? What if I screw up? I don’t remember where the courage or the innocence or the curiosity or the simple foolishness came from. I don’t remember if I was pushed over the threshold by my father’s death, or my mother’s suicide, or by death itself, by the stalking presence of death that has been just two silent footfalls behind me always, it seems like always.
I don’t remember why they hired me. No hospice experience, only a beating heart that said I need to talk to the dying. I don’t remember where the courage came from, no training, not even the most basic of books read, to walk into that room and say, ‘Hi I’m Nancy I’m your hospice social worker. How are you today?’
I don’t remember how I found the moxie, the strength, the stupidity to ask such a question. How are you today? What did I think they’d say? Top of the morning? Never felt better?
I don’t remember how I learned to steady myself, to look into Carol’s face, almost totally eaten away by melanoma, no nose, no mouth, just a clear view into her skull, now her eye sockets, soon no eyes. I don’t remember how I found the courage to say how are you and how I found a small truth, a flower of compassion to offer her. I don’t remember how I found the words to say Carol your hair looks lovely today.