Between life and death ...
Surviving isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Every week, as I prepare the death notices for publication, I read countless lists of survivors.

"He is survived by three sons ..."
"She is survived by her husband ..."

Removed from the actual circumstances, the words are just words. The names just names.

Being involved personally as a survivor brings a whole new meaning to the term.

It was late in May that Dad took a sudden downhill slide from just not feeling well to being rushed to
   the hospital in serious condition with congestive heart failure. His first few days there were not very
   hopeful, as he alternately slipped from awareness to oblivion to hallucinations and back to awareness
We didn't think he would make it.

It's late June now, and Dad's condition has stabilized to a "holding his own" category ... a phrase that's
    become useful when friends thoughtfully inquire about him.
He's holding his own.
The "survivors" aren't in very good shape either.
Oh, my stepmother and half-sisters and I aren't in any danger of failing health, but there's an emotional toll
   being taken each day as we wrestle with the questions of types of treatment and changes in lifestyle
   that accompany a serious illness in the family.
The rest of them have given, and continue to give, far more of themselves than I. Not for one hour since
   his admission to the hospital has Dad been without a daughter or his wife in his room, attending to his
   needs in a manner that cannot be matched by overworked staff and nurses. Whenever possible, I spend
   a few hours at the Vineland hospital to pitch in with Dad's care, bringing him news of his granddaughters
   and trying to evoke a smile or two from his otherwise unresponsive face.

It's hard, as you put yourself in his place, to understand what is must be like to lie dying in a darkened
  hospital room, knowing you have limited time left to be aware of the people you love and to hang onto
  the life you've fought so hard to preserve.
The healthy often run from the dying because it's so hard to face the finality of it ... the helplessness that
  can't be conquered ... the feeling of wanting to deny the whole thing ... "if only he'd eat a bit of breakfast,
  he might get stronger."
The knowledge that we are spending our last days with him, saying the last things we'll want him to hear,
  is uppermost in our minds even when we're away from his room.
And we hurt when he hurts, are uncomfortable when he's uncomfortable and are at peace when we can
  do something to bring him peace.

And it's hard, when you're in the quiet of his room, all attention focused on his every breath, to remember
   that life outside the hospital has to continue, with all the mundane considerations that go with daily
Someone has to pay bills, get the car fixed, call repairmen, prepare meals, do laundry, answer the
   ever-ringing telephone. Add to that the certain knowledge that, even if his condition improves enough
   to permit him to go home, Dad will never resume his normal way of life, never reopen the dusty dental
   office, never be fully capable of his own care. That thought, ever-intrusive in the daily business,
   dominates all others.
It is a tribute to the strength of spirit that the work gets done. The bills somehow get paid, the washer is
   replaced, the car serviced, special tidbits prepared to tempt Dad's failing appetite and keep everyone
   else from neglecting their health and callers politely told the sad news that Dr. Rubba will not practice

The sum of all of the things our family is experiencing now is what constitutes a "survivor."
It makes the anonymous names on page two, those "survivors," kindred spirits. They've been where we
  are now. They have to put their lives back together, just as our family will have to heal their wounds
  someday soon.

Surviving appears to start with the first physical setback ... that first tentative prognosis from the doctor
  that indicates a downhill struggle.
Surviving continues through the process of tending to the needs of the patient and the rest of the family.
Surviving isn't as easy as those who've never tried it tend to think it is.

Surviving isn't all it's cracked up to be.


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