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.
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.”