Soothed by gratitude
the thinning edges of life
take on new meaning
The small cottage is tucked behind a large framed house in an older neighborhood. The walkway is curved and lined with flowers. I sense that I’m about to meet someone special. I’m greeted by Ann whose soft gray curls surround a face worthy of framing. There’s nobility about her in the way she stands. The etchings of her pale skin suggest a life well lived with wisdom, humor and goals accomplished. Her life has been sharpened by travel as evidenced by walls adorned with paintings and artwork from around the world. Her furniture is solid though simple, uncluttered and patterned with elegance. Ann’s blue eyes hold a Mona Lisa smile that I’m guessing, was once radiant. Ann is dying. I am a hospice nurse.
It is my job to make the initial visit to a patient and family and explain hospice services. I’m to perform a physical exam and care for any immediate physical needs, call the Doctor for orders and order medical equipment as needed. I must develop a nursing care plan for the hospice team that follows. Above all, I’m to see that the patient is safe and comfortable. Although my hospice experience is only two years in the making, I’m not new to matters of life and death and the fact that emotional and spiritual pain can often be greater than physical pain…especially in this circumstance. The hospice chaplain and social worker will follow my visit in future days to address these things.
Ann’s situation poses special problems because she lives alone. All I know before I meet her are the clinical nursing notes I’ve read, sent from the doctor’s office: 78 yr. old single female, prognosis less than 6 months with terminal metastatic cancer. I read that Ann has no children and had been a television voice coach while in her late 60’s and early 70’s. I learn that on her last doctor visit she was not in pain and, for now, is safe alone at home.
After brief but warm introductions, I can tell we have a heart connection. I begin my physical nursing assessment.
“Jean, can you help me? Ann interrupts me with an urgent plea. Can you help me find God? I feel so far away from Him. I used to have faith, loved to be with people and enjoyed everything. Now I’m just annoyed and agitated with the thought of company and I’m keeping myself isolated. Every sound annoys me. I’m not afraid of dying. I want to find God now. Can you help me?”
I am startled at her clarity and boldness. I’m not the chaplain—but I do have a faith in God. She hardly knows me. I don’t even know if she has a church—it doesn’t matter. What matters now is helping her—but how? This is not in my job description, or is it? No one has ever asked something like this from me? I’m new at this.
In awe of the sacred trust Ann has given me in this brief acquaintance, it’s time to act. I pray for wisdom and reach back in time to my own faith struggles.
In this moment, I realize how universal our questions are…even unto death. Please God help me now, give me the words to help this dear one.
“Ann let’s try something. Please help me not be preachy. This is sacred ground. When I’m feeling down, I pray by being thankful. Let’s just be quiet for a minute.” I sit beside her and hold her hands while she lies on her sofa. We both close our eyes.
“Ann, do you hear the delivery truck next door clanking bottles. Let’s thank God for our hearing—for all the pleasing things our ears have heard and for the gift of being able to listen.
Thank you for the gift of voice and the ways that you have used Ann to help others. Ann, smell the flowers in your yard? The fragrance is heady and sweet right into your house. What a wonderful sense we have in being able to smell! Thank you God for our noses! Do you feel the sofa under you, the strength of its frame, and the softness of its fabric. What an amazing sense we have in touch like the touch of our hands. They are warm and loving.
And the miracle of your body resting here, how well it has served you all these years. And your eyes, the gift of sight and the gift of your travels—the adventure of it all, the friends who love you now and want to see you. How rich and full life has been for you Ann. God thank you for the gift of vision that we can see beyond what our eyes see. Help us now God, to see you more clearly and to trust you fully for whatever life remains here on earth and in the life to come. Help us to be glad each day.” Thank-you Ann.
I don’t know what time it is or how long this time has been, it has been time-less. I open my eyes slowly as does Ann. Her face is glowing, mine too.