Gifted in Grief

I realized it just this morning.

She was my age.

She was also a nurse.

Instrumental, I understand, in birthing this place.

She was admitted the same day we were, to the room next door to ours.

She’d done battle for 18 years.

A bone marrow donor stood ready, but she could not bounce back from her latest round of chemotherapy.

Hers was a family devoted to caring–husband a respiratory therapist, daughter a nurse (for one of my mother’s doctors), and older grandson a radiology technician.

We’d talk briefly as we passed in the hall or met in the kitchen.

“It’s getting close,” the husband said.

The daughter stopped to see my mom a couple times, but she was sleeping.

The other night, while seeking some laughs, my dad wore his orange shirt. The one that has a tiger face on the front. And a velcro’d flap that, when lifted, reveals the inside of the tiger’s mouth–teeth, tongue, uvula.


He came back to the room shortly and somberly.

“The boy said his grandma died five minutes ago.”

And he took the shirt off.

A few family members had gathered in the lobby, seated around the puzzle table, standing in the room.

I hugged the nurse and petted her yellow lab.

I hugged the husband.

What do you say at times like that?

I told him I was praying for them.

And I was.

Activity continued in and out of the room throughout the evening, and we wondered if my dad was mistaken.

I felt a little embarrassed about the hugs.

We heard talking and laughter.

“I hope she’s still not in there,” whispered my sister.

Eventually someone carried out a vase of flowers.

Someone left with a suitcase.

And then the whole family came into Mom’s room for the first time ever.

The nurse daughter smiled and gave Mom and hug, told her how she remembered her from the office.

They chatted.

Mom petted the dog.

The husband shook my dad’s hand.

I don’t remember what they said to each other in the doorway. Good luck? Take care?

It seemed awkward.

And then they left, and all was quiet.

We took Mom outside in the wheelchair for the last time that evening.

And then we tucked her back into bed.

I don’t think she was aware of the drama that had played out.

My dad bedded down on the floor next to Mom’s bed, in front of the television, volume blaring.

I wandered down to the kitchen for a cup of tea.

And on my return trip I saw the stretcher.

It was not empty.

And I was glad my dad was in our room.

When the end comes, families often feel a sense of comfort and relief that their loved one is at peace–comingled with shock and grief. Some want to leave immediately. Some want to sit with the body and share memories. Maybe even laugh. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

What I will remember is that this family, in their own grief, gave us the gift of their presence.

It seems right.

Because they had a good example.

I looked up the obituary today. “She continued to provide guidance and wisdom to family and friends right up until she died. She always had a strong faith in God which provided her with the strength to begin her new journey. We shall greatly miss her, her smile, and her laughter, and we will always remember her words–move forward, bounce back, and press on.”


Pressing on,




  1. says

    “move forward, bounce back, and press on.” So much better than take care and good luck, but I remember awkward exchanges like that outside my dad’s hospital room as well. You really are seeing deep these days, Sandra, and I appreciate the simplicity in the way you are sharing these stories. Prayers continue to ascend.

    • Sandra says

      Aren’t those wonderful wonderful word legacies? I’m sure those are words her family will come back to again and again.

  2. says

    And grief – over my mother – was my theme today. I am still reeling from it.

    My mother was in a rehab facility when she died. She had had two or three different roommates over the course of her time there (she was only ill six weeks before passing on – a gift that it didn’t drag out). Daddy left immediately and so my sister stayed at the house with him. My husband and dear friend Amy came and sat with me and Mama. We sat there and looked at that beloved face and shared memories until the man from the funeral home came. Such a nice man. The next day I went to pick up the rest of Mama’s belongings. The family of her roommate – people we had seen and smiled at, maybe said hello to – all gave me a hug and told me how they had enjoyed my Mother’s lovely smile and her friendliness. Their journey was looking to be much longer than ours. I pray for them from time to time. There were nurses and nurses aides crying as they hugged me goodbye. There were so many people who shared in letting Mama go. I don’t want to think of how we would have done it without them. God bless every one who gives you the gift of their presence when you are having to let go.

    • Sandra says

      Oh, Carolyn. Thank you for sharing here in this space. I’m so glad you had/have people surrounding you during this time. And that the nurses and aides also wept with you–I love their soft hearts and that they allowed themselves to do that with and for you. I wish I could give you a hug. Lifting your dad up right now.

  3. says

    Eighteen years she had battled. When I read her obituary, it occurred to me that she won.

    Thank you for giving us so many glimpses of the image-bearers in your descriptions of how we live and die in the presence of one another.

    So touching in so many ways. Thank you.

    Lifting a prayer for this family and another for your mom.

  4. Sara Biskie says

    I continue to pray for you and your family. May each of you feel God’s love and find comfort in knowing He has everything under control.

    • Sandra says

      Hi Sara. My sister and I remind ourselves of that often–we are not in control. You s’pose we’ll ever get to share that cup of tea/coffee sometime? Thanks for praying!

  5. says

    Sandy – These words are so beautiful. Yes, this is such a tribute. I know this is a difficult time for you and your family. Continuing to pray.

    I am so glad Carolyn stopped by here – her post on grief today was also a blessing to me.

    • Sandra says

      I’m heading over to Carolyn’s place momentarily. You are so often on my heart. Keep pressing on, my friend.

  6. says

    Amen to what Megan and Carolyn said. Adding to the ‘creep’ factor in our parallel universes here, Sandy, I am preparing to give a 40 minute presentation at a local Grief Group, the last in their 7 week series, this week on “Moving On.” I’ve been reading and thinking and praying for weeks about this – and your journeying words are so perfect in so many ways. There is no right way to do this – but it must be done. It’s a road with lots of missteps, lots of slippin’ and slidin’ and its paved with tears, but it’s good work. Necessary work. You’re doing it now and it will continue after she’s gone. Many, many blessings of peace and courage as you walk this valley and move out into the sunshine on the other side someday.

      • says

        No – no video. It’s a group of 25 or so and they do audio copy but no video. If I can pull it together enough, I’ll try and condense for a post next week. We shall see. There are a ton of great resources out there, many of them emanating from various hospice organizations around the country. How I thank God for that organization!

        • Sandra says

          A vlog, Diana. We’d watch a vlog, wouldn’t we Carolyn? We’ll settle for a post, but to hear your voice–that would be cool.

          • says

            You guys, I am so technically inept! And I don’t own a video camera. And i wouldn’t have a clue how to transfer/upload it …. sorry I’m such a lo-techie. :>) My amazing daughter just sent me a wonderful email outlining what she did during the first 18 months after her husband’s death 3 years ago. Beautiful ideas, most of them her own, some from her therapist at the time. I may end up structuring the entire presentation around her story…we’ll see. As usual, I’m still researching/avoiding. Now I need to outline and WRITE.

    • Sandra says

      Hi Jennifer. I love this thought–or the way I’m interpreting it–that the ability to grieve is a gift. Pondering that . . .

  7. says

    You have great wisdom and compassion Sandy. Yes, we all grieve in different ways. I’m praying for all of you as you navigate these difficult waters. So thankful for the gifts He has given you along the way and for your sweet spirit.

    • Sandra says

      I’m thankful for the gifts of friends and the way He orchestrates the little things–like selecting special roommates. So grateful for you, Linda.

  8. says

    I am always blessed to read your words Sandy, but these of course hit home… and my workplace…and my grieving heart for the last few years.
    “Move forward, bounce back, and press on.” There is always another family to help, another tear to wipe and hug to give. I love my work… and your story reminds me again… why.
    This family understood the meaning of 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Something tells me, you do too. Love and hugs to you… prayers for you.

    • Sandra says

      That we would have to meet up in Texas to realize we have the ability to meet up right here. Amazing. Those words are good ones to hang on to. I love that you love your job. I know that you are such an encouragement to staff, patients, and your volunteers.

  9. says

    oh, dear sandra… what can i add to the chorus of the saints here except that i love you? and that you made me cry too… i am praying, and how i long for such a beautiful obituary when i die. bless you friend.

    • Sandra says

      To leave something that would be worthwhile to live on–yes. Love you, too, sweet Emily. Bless you, too. Because you are a blessing.

  10. Sandra says

    Just in the being. There. Why do we feel we have to do?

    “Do not fear,” He said. And yet . . . So grateful He gives us day-by-day manna grace.