Up north, spring was often a disappointing transition between winter and summer. Sometimes winter hovered through April, like a house guest overstaying her welcome. Frosts often damaged early blooms, and old winter coats too often obscured new Easter dresses. For me, spring only seemed like a season in theory. There were no flowering trees or special birds to announce the return of warm weather, just a gradually rising mercury and longer days that promised a reprieve from the grays of winter.
The first spring I lived in North Carolina I was struck by the beauty of the season. Beginning in early March the daffodils bloomed, heralding the arrival of spring. I guess the crocuses bloomed first, but I didn't notice them. Other perennials followed in succession: tulips, hyacinths, lilies, and on and on. Likewise the trees flowered in hues of cream and pink and purple with each tree taking it's turn at center stage. And then the birds came: cardinals, blue jays, golden finches, nuthatches, and bluebirds. Finally I understood why the Resurrection occupies its place on the calendar. That first spring the world around me seemed to birth and bloom and grow in a crescendo made for my eyes rather than my ears. I was an awe-struck city girl racing around campus with a camera in an effort to record an experience with nature unlike any I had ever known.
Years ago, whenever I would pick a paint color for a room, I would ask myself, "Would color do you want this room to be when you are dying?" I guess it shows how long I have been thinking about my death. Once scleroderma came into my life and accepted my mortality, there was no going back. My death became an everyday aspect of my life. I do not mean to say that I spent part of everyday in fetal position. Of course, there were many times when I did curl into a ball and cry inconsolably. And I often cried in the shower and the car and in other random, unpredictable places. But the awareness of my likely premature death yielded more than moments of catharsis.
I suppose that in some ways I became a more calculating person. I did may things purposefully, knowing that my remaining time was short. I abandoned any plans to seek an academic job with tenure. Deep in my heart I knew I did not want that life even if I was healthy. I liked to do too many other things that I feared that I would have to surrender to be a successful academic. And being sick gave me a justifiable reason for opting out of a career path that I did not want. The background noise of my mortality played into everything else in my life as well: the choice to have children; the determination to stay married; the documentation of my children's lives through journals, photos, and collections of their artwork; the desire to make life beautiful with gardens and parties and costumes and birthdays parties. In many ways, my illness has been my life's director, showing me how to play my part so that it was genuine and real. It taught me to listen to my heart rather than the brain that ruled my world during my healthy years.
I would sit in a room, puzzling over colors. I would picture myself relaxing in a chair or sofa, covered with a blanket. In my mind's eye I would see the future me staring out the window to the birdfeeders where I imagined beautiful feathered creatures converging for an afternoon snack. And I would try to imagine how it would feel to watch the birds while my life slipped away.
When we walked into my hospice room, the curtains were open to reveal a sliding glass door and a patio complete with a table and chairs. Nearby stood two birdfeeders and I felt immediate peace. I knew I was where I needed to be, resting and staring out the window at the birds just as I always imagined it.
This hospice room is cosy, with homemade quilts and blankets. My patio overlooks a bucolic setting. My heart, soul, and body are in the capable and loving hands of the staff and my symptoms are coming under control. We are making progress, but there is no rush or hurry. They want to see me comfortable before they let me go home to live out my remaining time. I truly believe that choosing hospice with not only improve the quality of my life but also the duration. If I can be comfortable instead of writhing in pain and coughing violently, I can nurture my will to live. I can still fight if I just don't have to fight so damn hard.