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Monday, July 2, 2012

The Final Lamaze Class

I took the classes with my husband. 

I leaned back into his warm torso.  I placed my hands upon my taunt belly and took a deep breath.  I felt the breath deep within, centering me, supporting me.  Then I let it go.  I was preparing for the time to come: birth, new life and the pain of it all.  I knew I could make through.  The instructor said concentrate on the breathing.

My body had changed so much in these many weeks.  My torso swelled, I was retaining water and could no longer see my ankle bones.  Walking was hard, breathing was hard, but through it all he stood beside me.  Soon the baby would come and I would get my body back. 

The Lamaze class ended and the gaggle of pregnant women and the cluster of husbands would mutter in an excited anticipatory way.  We were walking this path together and everyone could relate.  I read pamphlets and books that would cover every detail of this exciting adventure.  I was familiar with terms like contractions, dilated and active labor.  If I tired of reading, I could question our Lamaze instructor or my OBGYN.  I could ask my neighbors, friends and relatives about their birth experience.  I didn’t even have to ask, folks constantly would tell me their stories unsolicited.

We planned the natural birth of our first son.  Little Freddie came one month early so we missed the final Lamaze class, but we had learned enough.  When labor came Fred held my hand and we breathed together.  He looked deep into my eyes and we breathed through the pain. He smiled at me and said, “There see, it is not so hard, just take a deep breath and let it out.”

Ten years would pass us by.  Ten years of bills, work, scraped knees and sweet smiles.  Ten years of moments not appreciated until they have passed us by.  Through ten years of joy and sorrow, I never forgot the most important lesson: Concentrate on breathing.  Close your eyes and take a deep breath and let it out.

So many people want to talk about how we are born, but very few want to talk about how we die.  

Colleen Young is a community manager of Virtual Hospice of Canada.  I met her on Twitter and I think of her as a type of  Lamaze instructor for death.  I see her frequent caring comments on end of life and cancer care.  I know she is kind and informed.  She is far away, but she can offer so much support online.  When she said she would like to join the Walking Gallery I knew what I wanted to paint for her.

This is Colleen Young’s jacket: “Virtual Hospice.”

"Virtual Hospice" a jacket for Colleen Young

It is very hard to die in the world of modern medicine.  Patients are lost within a system based on curative models. Dying is considered failure rather than a natural conclusion in life.  When a family makes the decision to go into to hospice care, many people just stop talking with you.  There is even a steep drop off in cards.  What are people to do?  Gone is the endless stream of “Get Well Soon!” cards inscribed with that most empowering of notes, “You can beat this!”

There are no hospice cards.

The mailbox is often empty, both online and in life.  This is that quiet before the storm. The lonely solitude before the mailbox fills again with sympathy notes.  Into this utter darkness a cursor blinks.  It is Colleen and others like her answering end of life discussion group questions both metaphysic and mundane. Here is this space we can learn about active death and its symptoms just as easily as I once learned of active labor.

The Archangel of WiFi

Within this painting is the Archangel WiFi.  The angel stands above my husband and me, for through this signal we can find someone to talk with us, someone who can explain this scary journey.  In my hands I hold the I-pad I needed at that time picking up the signal not available when my husband was ill.

Virtual Hospice

Fred came home to die after three weeks in inpatient hospice.  I sat beside him as his hands fluttered and plucked at his gown and blanket. His body had changed so much in these many weeks.  His torso swelled, he was retaining water. I could no longer see his ankle bones.  Sitting up was hard, breathing was hard, but through it all he smiled at me. 

Soon it would be over. 

His hands were placed upon his taunt belly. He took a deep rattling breath.  I felt his breath deep within, centering me, supporting me.  Then I let him go.  He was preparing for the time to come: death, new life and the pain of it all.  I knew he could make through.

I smiled at him through my tears and heard his words from long ago, “There see, it is not so hard, just take a deep breath and let it out.”


  1. Dear Regina,
    With this beautifully insightful narrative, you have brilliantly nurtured and enhanced your art, which is worth so much more than a 1000 words. Thank you for the inspired jacket and accompanying story. It is such an hono(u)r to be able to wear our stories together.

    While I will graciously say thank you for the compliment, you know that I am merely the conduit to the Virtual Hospice community. I am also blessed to work with a fabulous clinical team. Like the bricks and mortar versions, Virtual Hospice's information and support is a multi-disciplinary effort, including a community of people who have been there and others who will come.

    The completion of the jacket and the story is very well timed as I prepare to fly out for a face-to-face meeting with the staff and clinical team today. I know that they will be as touched as I am about the parallels you draw between birth and death.

    It is my hope that by wearing your jacket we can help people understand life’s end journey where metaphors of fight, battle, conquer, win are ill suited and that, despite the pain, loved ones at the bedside often experience acceptance, peace and love.


  2. Dear Colleen,

    I am so glad you joined the gallery. We need more conduits like yourself upon this often confusing path. I know wherever you walk you will spread the word and peace and love will come of it.

  3. This.was.captivating.
    Thank you for this.

  4. I'm working on a podcast on palliative care for the Soc of Hospital Medicine, and the docs I've interviewed so far are in sync with you on this, big-time. I shared the link with one of them, in the hope that your voice will help them raise theirs to enable the conversations that are so deeply needed, by all of us, at the end of life.

  5. Hi Casey,
    If there's anyway I can offer support or resources for the preparation of your podcast let me know.

    I'd love to share with you a chain of events that happened just this week to demonstrate the need for enabling these conversations. It's the story of a tweet, a hashtag, a blog and a community. Here's the abbreviated version:

    It started w/ a tweet to #bcsm. @chemobrainfog grabbed the ball & did this, which led to this

  6. Regina, the jacket arrived today. It is stunning!!