Tuesday, July 28, 2015
I am the Mother of one daughter, Catherine. She was born on a lovely March day after many years of infertility, miscarriages, and dashed hopes and dreams. It was clearly the best day of my life.
But I am a mother just like you. I have other things I do with my day. I am busy running errands, cleaning up messes, dealing with laundry and sometimes trying to read. I am also preoccupied with many other, seemingly unimportant things and I am certainly not perfect. I do try to be a good mom, but I know that sometimes I fall short of that mark as well. But my life is full and happy, and for that I am grateful.
One of the ways that I fill my life, besides being a mother and wife, is by being a hospice nurse. I did not actively seek out this job, it sort of found me. I have been a nurse, in one form or another, for 30 years now. I had never worked in the hospice field before, but it had touched my life. My own mother had hospice in 1997 when she died, as did my young cousin, who died much too young in 2001.
So I became a hospice nurse. Most of my patients are seniors. The ending of their lives has touched me for sure, although they seem to follow the normal course of the universe. Many had full lives and were well loved. I was saddened, but felt that I was helping them and their families cope and I could go home and continue my life without too much distress. Things were ok. Then one day, I received the name of a patient to see at a large teaching hospital in Boston. When I looked at the chart, I did not see just a new patient to admit. I only saw myself. A woman, age 42 at the time. The mother of a 4-year-old daughter. She had struggled for years with infertility and this child was a gift. She was diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy, but refused treatment as not to harm her child. She fought hard against the disease. But in the end, it had won.
I went to see her with a feeling of dread. This is one of my worst fears, to leave my daughter. As I entered the room, I could sense her full presence. Her daughter was playing in the room, talking to her, like any normal child would. Her unresponsive mother could not respond verbally, but I definitely sensed a charge in the room, a warmth. I cannot describe it, but it was there. When the patient’s sister came to take the child to lunch, all that energy left with her.
I sat there with the patient, she was comatose. I told her what a beautiful daughter she had and how proud she must be of her. It was hard for me to be there, I wanted to run away. I held back my tears until I got to my car, then I couldn’t stop crying. I cry now still, years after her death, as I write this.
I had to see her many more times, as we see patients who are hospitalized every day. Each day was difficult for me, but I had to remember that I am the one having the good day. There is no reason for me to feel sorry for myself. All my energy needs to be directed to the patient and the family.
I brought the patient’s daughter some princess stickers at one visit. She proceeded to place them all over her “sleeping” mother. The mother looked ethereal lying there. She still had all her wonderful, beautiful thick and flowing red hair. The floor nurses had lovingly brushed it. She did not look as though she were ill. She did indeed look as though she were only sleeping.
I stayed longer than my normal visits when I went to see her. I sat in the chair next to her and talked. I talked about her daughter, how she was the same age as my daughter. I talked about her sister and mother who would be raising her daughter, how wonderful they were. How I wish I still had my mom. How I had always had wished for a sister.
I talked to her about my own daughter. I talked as though we were friends just chatting. Her sister and mother were sometimes in the room when I came, and we all sat around the bed like old friends. They told me how my talks with her seemed to calm her. The nurses would call me when she was agitated and I would try to come, even on my time off.
When I returned home after these visits, I would see my daughter, but with new eyes. I thought about what I needed to share with her now that was truly important. We all think we have so much time. But we don’t. So I took the time to read the story. I listened more patiently when she told me a story. I hugged her more. I smelled her hair. We went for longer walks. I pushed her longer on the swing.
I saw her thorough my patient’s eyes, and my eyes opened more than I could have ever imagined.
This lovely patient, who taught me so much, without ever speaking a word, died quietly a few days later. I read about it in the paper and heard it in report. She died at midnight on the cusp of spring, a day before my birthday.
Months, years have passed since then. But I still, to this day, think about her. She has, without knowing, made me a better wife, mother and nurse.
I thank her.