Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering....I know you by heart

This weekend, I am reminded of so many of my patients. Now that I have stepped back from my life in Boston, in our new home over two thousand miles away, I seem to be able to better reflect upon the years I spent as a hospice nurse. Many of the patients I cared for suddenly have been coming back to me in my memory. I cannot list their names due to confidentiality issues, but I remember them all. So many beautiful, lovely people. Many way too young. Many older as well, but who still had so much to give.

One woman in particular, I will call her E, died on my birthday. I will never, ever forget her And not just because she died on my birthday. She was simply remarkable. She was remarkable for her strength and her unrelenting courage.  I remember going to her home the day she died. She asked me what day it was. "March 20th," I answered. She said to me, "Is it spring?  I want to make it to spring." Yes, I told her. It was indeed the first day of spring.  She died peacefully several hours later. I remember leaving and going to my car and being just so angry. So damn angry that all of these people had to go way before their time. Not just E, but so many others as well.  It just seemed so unfair to me.  This loss.  This tremendous loss.

I had one patient, a firefighter, whom I just adored. He had renal cancer, but at one point, he rallied.  He seemed to be getting better. It was like a miracle. I visited that home twice a week, for almost a year. Then he declined.  I remember calling his MD, frantic. The MD was quite amazed he had lived this long and was not surprised.  He asked me what I had been doing, as clearly he saw no other explanation for this patient outliving his grim two month prognosis.  I think the MD thought I was nuts.  The guy was on hospice, for goodness sakes. I just didn't want him to die. He was living his life with his wife and grown sons and grandchildren and he was just a great guy. And just that past week they had  had a huge birthday party for him. But he died one night after waking up feeling like he couldn't breath.  The night nurse was there with him. I wish I could have been there. I miss him. I do.  And I hoped against hope that he would somehow pull through and have more time. But he was robbed, just like so many others.

I miss so many of the  people that I took care of. When you enter someone's life at the end of their life, all the nonsense strips away and you are left with just a real person. You know them quickly. They know and learn to trust you as well.  They let you see them in what is a very intimate, raw time. There is a connection no matter how briefly you attend to them.

Some nurses do not get the connection.  Everyone is different. But I felt a connection almost, I would say, 100% of the time. It is true. I cannot explain it. But I felt it.

One patient I fondly remember was a chef. She had a cooking show on cable TV.  I met her on only one weekend, but I will never, ever forget her. She was the matriarch of the family. Her husband and two adult sons were clueless on how to care for her.  You could tell that she always did everything for them.

 I went to her home to admit her to hospice on a Saturday morning and she asked me to not leave her alone with them. "They don't know what to do.  I am scared."  So I spent most of the day with her, going to see other patients, but then returning. She was a lovely woman.  She had been battling cancer for some time, but now it was everywhere. Her last MRI showed it around her heart, and so her MD told her to prepare and to sign onto hospice.

I remember sitting in her elegant bedroom. She had made it a haven. I sat in a beautiful chair next to her bed and we talked. Mostly about cooking and she told me a story about how she once met Julia Child. Her son came upstairs and laid on the bed next to her and fell asleep as we chatted. It was a cool autumn day, the perfect day to hang out and nap. It would have seemed like an ordinary day.  Except of course it wasn't.

I went back the next morning early.  She was declining quickly.  I stayed most of the day.  She knew she was dying and asked me to hold her hand. I gave her medication to ease the anxiety and she was able to sleep.  I stayed.  She died that afternoon. The sons and husband did not have a clue what to do. So I told them to sit on the bed with her and tell stories, which they did.  They told many stories about fun times.  She seemed so peaceful lying there, listening. Then her breathing changed, and she passed away quietly. Elegantly. Just like she lived.

I could go on and on with so many stories. I may tell more on another day. The memories seem to want to come out now. They are all truly etched in my heart.

I will never forget them. And I miss them all.

The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

~~~ Lois Lowry, The Giver


  1. I served two decades in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a hospice care giver, retiring in 2007 -- now since Dec. 1, my wife Sondra, a retired acupunturist, live in a small rented house in Imperial Beach, 2 blocks from the beach, just south of San Diego.

    Noticed your post re sweeteners, and felt like connecting.
    Rich Murray: Pearson: Murray:
    hospice interview June 1993 6.22.1 rmforall

    June, 1993 interview by Cynthia Pearson netcadet@...
    7301 Reynolds Street
    Pittsburgh, PA 15208 412-241-7885 1451 fax

    One of 14 chapters in July, 1999 book: "Parting Company:
    The Caregiver's Journey: Understanding the Loss of a Loved One."

    Rich Murray Room For All
    1943 Otowi Road Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505 USA

    Amiably Going Along with the Human Drama:
    Home Health Care Aide Richard T. Murray

    Lean and graying, Richard T. Murray is a cordial middle-age man with an infectious enthusiasm for discussing spiritual principles and meditative practices. He is interesting on the subject of caring for terminal patients, and he is interested in their passage. For anyone who has been through the challenge of finding and hiring reliable and compassionate aides, Richard would be a godsend. He seemed to be an illustration of Zen master Philip Kapleau's advisory:

    "Any health care professional who takes up meditation on a regular, daily basis will begin to find themselves not only better able to relate to the dying patient, but also with greater energy, strength and emotional resources. He or she will then be able to know
    what to do with a dying patient even when medical intervention is no longer useful."

    Aspartame: The hidden danger [methanol/formaldehyde] in our midst and how it kills us, 12 page review of While Science Sleeps text (Woodrow C Monte), International Health News, whole June issue, Editor: William R Ware PhD: Rich Murray 2012.06.08

    I hope this is fun and helpful for you and your chemist husband.

    within mutual service, Rich 505-819-7388

  2. Janice,
    I've recently lost my stepmother to cancer and am now losing my father to the same disease. I'm not able to express my feelings openly, but reading your blog has really helped me accept and cope.
    Thank you,