(This photo has nothing to do with this post. I just liked it.
The painting in the background is by my talented mother.)
Last week at work I re-met a lady whom I'd met last year while working at hospice. Last week she was just accompanying someone who was in for a colonoscopy. Last year she was at the bedside of a young woman who had suffered a sudden event and was sent from the emergency room to our hospice home. Over the course of a few days she'd gone from independent living to being on her death bed. I was with her and her family as she breathed her last. I was the one who said those sad words, "Time of death...."
At the surgical center where I now work I am finding that I often meet people from my past jobs. I guess that isn't surprising as this is not a metropolis. Working at hospice I often got to know patients and family members over an extended period of time. Even further back, as a chemotherapy nurse, I developed friendships with patients and their families that often spanned a number of months or even years. Actually, that was one of my favorite parts about those jobs. Many of those patients gave more to me than I ever gave to them.
My concern, now, is the effect seeing me has on the survivors. I am seeing them at a time when they are likely a bit nervous as they are coming to our center for a procedure. They are vulnerable. Then, in I walk. Does it give them comfort to have someone they already know enter their room? Maybe. I am happy to see them and greet them with joy, but I know that the sight of me represents painful memories as well. That doesn't make me happy but it is what it is.
As I thought about this, wondering how I could make it easier on my current patients, I realized I may be looking at it all wrong. Maybe these meetings are a time when I'm supposed to offer something of a healing presence. Do you suppose that I can say or do something that helps them through their grief? Maybe just knowing that I remember their loved one, cared about their loved one, sometimes even still mourn their loss myself could be healing for them. I don't know.
Yesterday a patient came in who was a family member to one of my previous patients... a nurse herself who became a friend and mentor to me, even as I cared for her. I gave her chemotherapy over the course of several years. I loved her! When I saw her family member, I knew they would know me. My friend/patient had kept my photograph on her refrigerator and had included me in some of her family events. Since her death, though, I'd only seen her family a few times.
I prayed before I entered his room. I wanted to help him face his procedure. I did NOT want to cause him pain. So, I went in smiling. We hugged. We talked. I tried to pay attention to what he might need to hear. Finally, I felt he needed to hear me say some of what she had meant to me. I told him how I still go to her grave site sometimes to pray. I told him I still think of her. I still miss her.
THEN, we moved on. We talked of his life now, four years after his loss. We talked of his family. We talked of the future. I think it was good. I realized then, that maybe these meetings could be more than just painful reminders to people. Maybe they could have a healing purpose. Maybe that healing is for me, as well as for them. I don't know.