Ruth enrolled in outpatient Hospice services at age sixty-seven with end-stage lung disease. I’d known Ruth as a fellow hospital employee for over thirty years. If I remember correctly, Ruth started her healthcare career as an “on the job” trained respiratory therapy assistant, earned her Licensed Practical Nurse certificate, worked as a diabetic educator for a season and finished out her career as an inpatient physical rehabilitation nurse. Ruth was tough and outspoken. She admitted, “I have a reputation as a ‘big mouth’, not really; I just say what I think.” And she did, and that’s what I loved about her. What you saw was what you got, no matter who or what you were.
Mitch Albom, award winning sports columnist and journalist wrote a book titled, “Tuesday’s with Morrie” (1997). Sixteen years after his college graduation Mitch heard that his beloved college professor and mentor, “Coach” was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. And Mitch spent the last fourteen Tuesday’s of Morrie’s life by his side engaging in heart-to-heart conversations about living and dying. Well, for the next couple weeks I’m writing about my “Tuesday’s with Ruth”. Ruth and I met almost every Tuesday for a year and a half. I provided the French vanilla cappuccinos, as we both provided the fodder for conversation; and neither of us typically had much difficulty striking up a conversation.
One Tuesday morning Ruth reflected upon her illness. A few years earlier Ruth had completed the outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation program to learn to cope with her chronic lung disease. I asked Ruth “Is there anything they taught you back then that you still use now? She replied, “They would always say ‘slow down’. For example when you are climbing a set of stairs, just climb three steps and rest for a while, and then go another three steps. I have to tell myself to slow down now. Slowing down is one of the most difficult things in life to do. We aren’t programed that way. Our culture programs us to hurry, to rush and when we do we don’t enjoy life. You have to interrupt your thought patterns, be reprogramed. ”
I told Ruth that her observations remind me of the lyrics of a song by Alabama: “I’m in a hurry to get things done, Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really got to do is live and die; but I’m in a hurry and don’t why” (“I’m in a Hurry”). I confessed to Ruth that I frequently “get in a hurry and don’t know why”, especially when driving. When my family and I are headed to a vacation destination, I feel like it’s my masculine obligation to beat my best time, and everyone else’s. I’m not the only one. Come on now, admit it. How many times has someone told you that it took them five hours to drive somewhere and you proudly responded, “I made it in four and a half”?
I told Ruth that my wife and I were taking my daughter, Elizabeth, back to college in Philadelphia and that I was going to slow myself down this time; that I was going to enjoy the journey. When I returned the following Tuesday Ruth asked me, “Well, how did you do?” I replied, “I was doing alright until I got to Dover, Delaware; I got pulled over for doing sixty-five in a forty-five! But I’ve been a changed man since Dover”.
Why do we “rush and rush until life’s no fun”. Morrie suggested to Mitch, “I believe in being fully present…so many people…are so self-absorbed their eyes glaze over if you speak for more than thirty seconds….Part of the problem…is that everyone is in such a hurry…People haven’t found meaning in their lives, so they’re running all the time looking for it…the next car, the next house, the next job… Then they find those things are empty, too, and they keep running…you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it, create your own…”
“I Spend all of my time dreaming what the future’s gonna bring, when all of this time there’s a world passing by right in front of me, set my sights on tomorrow while I’m tripping over today. Who says big things are somewhere off in the distance. I don’t want to look back just to see all the times that I missed it. I want to be here and now starting right here right now, with the very next words of love to be spoken’ to the very next heart shattered and broken, to the very next way You’re gonna use me, I’ll do the next thing.“ (“The Very Next Thing”)
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525