She was my age, and also a nurse.
She helped birth this place–a place where people could live out their last days in unforced rhythms of grace, where grief itself could cultivate good. I’m sure she never dreamed that she would be birthed to a new life from one of its beds.
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), 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 told me.
The daughter stopped to see my mom a couple times, but she was sleeping.
One night, my dad wandered out of the room. He needed to find some laughter. He 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.
But he came back shortly. “The boy said his grandma died five minutes ago.” He took the shirt off.
I went out to the hall. 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. I said I was praying for them.
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 passing out hugs.
We heard talking and laughter. “I hope she’s still not in there,” my sister whispered.
Eventually someone carried out a vase of flowers. Someone left with a suitcase. And then the whole family came into our room.
The nurse-daughter smiled and gave Mom a 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? Have a nice day? Then everyone left, and the house 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 grasped the drama that had played out.
My dad stretched out on the floor where he always slept next to Mom’s bed, in front of the television, volume blaring.
I went to the kitchen. Coming back with a cup of steaming tea, I saw a stretcher.
It wasn’t empty, and I was glad my dad was bedded down 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’s 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. They continued one woman’s legacy of cultivating good and walking in a rhythm of grace.
I looked up the obituary. “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.”
Thanksgiving Day this year will mark the third anniversary of my mom’s passing. I tend to become rather pensive during the fall, and especially during November, as I reflect on those last weeks lived with her in the hospice home. In scrolling through old posts written during that time, I stumbled on this one. I remembered how this family took a few moments to cultivate good in our own grief and how they encouraged us to keep on keeping on. So I’ve brushed it off a bit to repost and join The High Calling in community as we consider the theme, “Create Good.”
Pressing on in the stillness,