3 years in high school, 4 semesters in college, and that was all the Spanish I could muster. And even then, I wasn’t altogether certain I was using the right phrase.
She had looked over at me when I walked in the room and introduced myself, but then her gaze turned back to the silent figure in the bed. Her daughter and niece had introduced themselves, but she left that to the others. Her attention, her energy, maybe even her own being was all directed at her husband.
Her husband was actively dying. And she was not ready.
When I first started at the hospice, I thought actively dying was an oxymoron. But I’ve come to see that dying is far from passive. Even those who have long-since reconciled to death and are at peace with its nearing must wait for the liver, kidneys, brain, heart and lungs to go through their emergency functioning processes before they all finally shut down. Their bodies are trying to keep living, even as their energy and capacity steadily diminishes. It’s hard work.
Sometimes it’s even harder work for the survivors. No one wants the patient to linger, but the fact that you will not see your father, uncle, grandchild, daughter, or spouse again in this world becomes real in these hours. It’s difficult when you’ve had months or years of illness and decline, even more-so when death comes unexpectedly.
They were sitting vigil, as they had for the past 36 hours in his room. Before that, she had made the decision to stop treatment at the hospital. Before that, she had been enjoying what she had thought would be a long life with her husband.
I had come into the room, hoping to talk with her, but she was content to let the others speak. After a few moments, I approached her and knelt between the couch and the foot of his bed to ask how she was feeling and let her know that I was there to support the family.
“You look sad,” I observed, and the daughter translated. At the word “triste” she nodded.
“And are you worried?”
Another nod at “preocupada.” Her gaze shifted back to her husband in the silence. When she looked back to me, the pain in her eyes was palpable.
“My heart breaks for you.” No translation was necessary as I covered my own heart and then pointed to hers.
The only thing I could think to say next…
“Lo siento.” And the tears streamed down both of our cheeks.
I’m sorry that you’re hurting.
I’m sorry I didn’t keep up my Spanish so I could speak to you alone.
I’m sorry for your coming loss.
I’m sorry that I can’t take this pain away from you
I’m so very very sorry.