Misty December Nights

*Jamie and Irene’s names have been changed

Driving home in increasingly thickening fog. Beautiful streams of light shine through the lulling mist

I know at least three of the nine patients I have seen today may not still be there when I return tomorrow.

….They may well be part of the mist.

And here we are just days from Christmas. That’s nine families I have come to know whose Christmas is going to be impacted by the disease that is ravaging their loved ones.

Nine families who may have an empty seat at the table, who’s loved one who may be spending their Christmas Day eating microwaved turkey, swimming in hospital catering gravy, served on a table with wheels, hovering over a profiling hospital bed.

Nine families who’s loved one may be too tired to join the festivities but be lucky enough to be in a bed upstairs hearing the laughter of the loved ones and the muffled sound of Christmas music playing as the turkey is carved.

Nine families whose empty seat may now be permanent. The first Christmas where grief overwhelms the magic. The decorations will feel pointless, the dinner will be a chore, the presents will be opened with a side serve of guilt. Carols will play, singing about stars and angels and heaven. Those listening will be hoping that stars and angels in heaven are taking care of the loved one who should be sat in the empty chair.

Jamie is one of those nine.

Jamie is cachetic and weak. He lies drowsily in the bed, his skin draped over his bones, illuminated in a concerning shade of yellow. His cheeks sunken into his face hollowing even further with each slow and steady breath. His lifeless hand with cyanosed fingertips, desperately clutched within the hand of his mother Irene.

Irene tells me about what an amazing Carpenter Jamie was but how he never got the jobs done at home, we laughed about how typical this probably is for most ‘tradesmen’. She tells me only 5 days ago he went Christmas shopping in a wheelchair and he came home beaming saying what a wonderful time he had. She doesn’t let go of his hand as she talks fondly of him.

She tells me she lost her partner this year too. She asks me why god would let her experience this loss…twice. She questions her faith and her future and her dreams.

She tells me she knows she will likely be wrapping the presents that Jamie bought and she confesses to me…and herself, that she knows Jamie won’t make it until Christmas, and he may not even make it through the night.

And so I drove home in the mist. Thinking about Jamie. Thinking about Irene and how she was going to cope with her life now without Jamie. Would she get her faith back after this?

Loss and grief are difficult to navigate at the best of times but Christmas can be particularly difficult. There is the last push to get someone home for the ‘big day’ and sometimes that fails and you feel you have failed your patient. These are the thoughts you have and the feelings you feel as you drive home in the mist, as 80s Christmas songs play on the radio.

Through the full beam headlights I see the mist dancing in the light. I wonder if Irene sees it too. I wonder if Jamie will ever see it again? I see twinkling lights strewn in trees and on fences, I see fires roaring through windows. I see the world keeps on turning regardless.

I see that through the mist, there is light. Wherever or however that may be, somehow there is light.

Jamie died that night.

I just hope Irene can still see the light. 

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