Wednesday, May 25, 2016

One last lesson

Ten years ago I attended the funeral of a woman who wasn't terribly kind. At her funeral the priest asked if anyone would like to say a kind word about her and no one moved to speak.  No one. Not her family, or the scattering of friends inside the church. The silence was deafening.  Everyone turned and looked around for a brave soul to stand but there were no words to be said. I left with a heavy heart and a sick feeling of a life wasted.

A very short time later I attended the funeral of my grandfather, perhaps the kindest man I had ever known after he left us suddenly in a car accident.  The same priest asked for volunteers to speak and person after person stood and recounted the many ways that this man had impacted their lives.  The fullness of his life reverberated off of the walls in that sacred space and there was a reverent silence among us as we took in the measure of a life well lived. We all left with full, if sorrowful hearts, certain that he had left his mark on the world before he departed. It was the first time that I  pondered what may be said after my final breath.

I have thought of this final lesson everyday since, and it reminds be to be kinder, live fuller and love more.

My Grandpa taught us to be humble. His humble spirit probably shrugged off the kind words spoken on that day, if indeed he heard the words from his new angelic home—in his mind sure that he should have done more. I wish that I had told him more than just an ‘I love you’. I wish that I had told him that he was the greatest man that I ever knew. He would have just shaken his head in embarrassment, but I wish that I had told him anyway. I did not tell him in life, but I did tell that room of people those exact words, among others. 

You know that expression, that someone would give the ‘shirt of his back’. That was my Grandpa. He lived his life gifting his time, his money, his life to others. He gifted silently and many were not aware of the ways that he was out there saving the world, one person at a time. As a father who, before his time-- would change a diaper and do midnight feeding, as a firefighter, as a business owner that donated his time and money to many causes, as a friend whom you could count on even in the middle of the night, as a grandfather that would love you as fiercely as anyone could…he lived his life serving others.

He left us on Memorial Day in 2006. He was in what seemed to be a minor car accident and was ever so suddenly gone from this Earth. Memorial Day seems such an appropriate day for him to leave us- we have remembered him every single day since. In many ways, the ways that we live our lives is a memorial to him everyday. 

The lessons that he left will live on forever. His eight children, seventeen grandchildren, his great grandchildren and friends and family will remember forever his kindness, love without boundaries, humility and willingness to learn new ways even until his last days(he taught me that there is no wisdom without open-minded learning) will stay on this Earth at least as long as we carry on his ways.

Thanks for the final lesson, Gramps. I love you even more today than the day you left us. Ten years have passed but your lessons remain.

 I’ll see you on the other side.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

End of Life Lessons

When I was a hospice nurse I often asked my patients some version of the question, "Do you feel that you've learned all that you were meant to from your life?".
Hospice nursing actually gave me time to sit and speak with my patients(unlike many nursing fields) and I got to know many of them very well. And, I was genuinely curious as a young person who felt so confused by life and the pain that seemed to be all around me. So, I started asking if they, many approaching 100 years of age, had the answers that I was seeking. 
There were many different answers to this question, some very profound. But, what really strikes me even after years have passed since I was a nurse in that field, is that no one, NO ONE answered yes. Everyone felt that many things about life were still a mystery to them and even though they felt more wise as they aged- they still had more questions than answers. They all wished that they had been kinder to themselves on this journey.  They wished that they had spent less time working and earning money and more time following the tiny voice in their head that tried to guide them to a more loving life.

We are here to live and to learn, each and every day, until our last breath. We are not meant to have all of the answers. That's okay.
If you're feeling frustrated and confused by life, my friends- you are not alone. It is a mysterious journey. We may never receive all of the answers that we wish for.

Be kind to yourselves as you walk this long road. You don't need all of the answers. We're all just doing the best that we can.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Beauty of Scars

My daughter has a tiny scar next to her mouth from a fall out of bed years ago. Tonight, as I tucked her into bed, I noticed that it glinted subtly silvery in the glow of the night-light. It is beautiful to me although I remember the night that she fell out of her bed with a cringe, even four years later. 

I know that my insides are full of unseen scars. After seeing the beauty of my daughter's scar tonight, I imagined the inside of my body held together by a mass of silvery threads- the glittery by-product of years of hurt. A body truly held together by shiny threads-- threads which once burned with pain but have weathered into beauty.

Our scars are what make us different from one another. 

And, what makes us different and unique is what makes us beautiful. 

Your beauty doesn't lie in perfection. The real beauty is often in the scars and the pain and how we carry ourselves when we are weighted down with burden. 

I see your scars. And, I think they are beautiful.

We Are All Connected

I met a refugee family recently and the family, in broken English with chests puffed up with pride, boasted that their youngest daughter had been born in America- the first of their family to be born in this country, their new and beloved home. The daughter had toddled over to me and patted my cheek sweetly while asking, "you Sister?". I replied that I wasn't her sister but was there as a nurse to visit another family. Her mother then kindly explained to me that in their culture we are all brothers and sisters. I nodded and my mind was immediately swimming in the beauty of that thought. 
Today I met them again. The little girl again toddled up to me and I squatted down to look her in the eye. She again sweetly patted my cheek and instead of a question, she firmly said, "Hello, Nurse Sister". 
This time, instead of shrugging off the title as too personal for virtual strangers, I placed my pale hand upon her cherubic, dark cheek and replied, "Why hello there, Sister." 
We are all connected no matter the color of our skin, our culture, our language. It's ever so easy to forget that fact in our disjointed lives- lives so busy that we have forgotten to meet our neighbors and stay connected through devices in our hands without laying eyes on friends for years. 

I hope that you will find a moment of connection today, my brothers and sisters. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Letter to the Children of a Nurse

Dear Ones,

I knew when I chose nursing as a career, that I would make many sacrifices. I did not know then that my future children would make many sacrifices, as well. Of course, you had no say in my career choice. However, I often wonder if you did have a choice, if you would choose differently for me, for yourself. 

You have friends whose parents have staid nine-to-five jobs. Jobs that don’t keep them away from the dinner table because your shift is not yet over. Jobs that don’t require on-call hours, holidays away from home and entire weekends of ballgames missed. That probably seems like it would be easier to handle than having a parent who is off trying to save lives and comfort others instead of in the bleachers when you land your first home run, sing your heart out in the school program or receive your first scouting badge.

I am sorry for every time that you have dreamt of me having a different job so that I did not miss the important days of your lives. I wish that I did not miss those days, as well. My soul carries a hole where those memories should live.

You probably wish that I had a job that did not leave me dog-tired and emotionally drained at the end of every day. As hard as I try, sometimes there is simply little of me left to spread over my children at the end of a day when my hands brought life into this word and, maybe in the same day, out of this world into the next. I have given everything that I am in the space of that 8 hour, 12 hour, 16 hour day-- often without a bathroom or meal break. I come home and want to rest, but try my best instead to shower you with love. You are my priority always even though there are some days that it must not feel like it.

I am sorry for every day that you wondered if my patients mean more to me than you. My patients are very important to me but you will always and forever be more important. If I didn’t show that truth to you each and every day, no matter how tired I was-- I am so very sorry.

You have told me how hard it is to spend holidays without me-that there seems to be a hole in the family photo albums where your mother should be. We tried celebrating on different days but your heart always knew the day that the world was celebrating on and that I was not there.

I am sorry for each and every holiday that I missed. I promise you that I was with you in spirit and that, as I tended to my patients, I was often thinking of you.

I know that it seems like an entire part of my world, of my life, is a secret. I am bound to keep the details of my patients secret. They deserve that privacy. I know that when I lock myself in the bathroom to have a cry that you would like to know why I am crying. I cannot tell you that I a child died in my arms or I told a mother that her child was not long for this world or maybe that I’m so blissfully happy that I was able to witness a miracle that day. I try to tell you what I can even as I want to shield you from the terrors of a cruel world.

I am sorry if I sometimes seem emotionally distant. I wish that I were strong enough to not allow you to sometimes witness my own breakdowns. I hope that you know that I let you see of much of me as I can and that I am trying to protect you from seeing the gritty realities of my chosen career.

I know that there were days that you were sick and you wanted no one else but me. I have always tried my best to be with you. However, there were days when no one could cover my shift and I had to go in so that my patients; vulnerable, suffering and in need of care; could get the care that they deserve. You were left with Dad or Grandma, who cared for you in the best way possible, but were never Mom.

I am sorry that I have not always been there every moment that you needed me. These shifts were the hardest of my life. I often had to seek out a bathroom to weep against the tiled wall, so badly did I ache to have your fevered body in my arms. I hope someday that you will understand.

I have chosen this life. This career that has given me far more blessings than pain. I was called to this job by a power that I could never explain. You did not get a say in this choice, but still have to suffer some of the consequences. For that I am so very sorry.

I write you this letter to honor your struggle, your pain and, hopefully, your pride. I can see what extraordinary people you are, my children. I hope that witnessing my journey as a nurse has played a part in that. I know that your sacrifices made to support your mother’s life as a nurse likely played a part in your empathetic nature, as well.

You did not choose this life but you have met every struggle with grace and love. You are not an ordinary child. You are the child of a nurse. 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in these posts about nursing:

My Nurse's Stethoscope and Why I am Proud to be a Nurse

To The Parents of Special Needs Children from a Nurse-- You are My Heroes

Are Funny Memes Damaging to the Profession of Nursing?