I sat in the back row of the large Catholic Church and watched the young people and their families file in. Most heads were bowed but some were looking around with sad eyes. My heart was racing and I physically felt uncomfortable as I fought to not let tears escape my eyes. The open casket at the front of the church kept calling to me but I couldn’t look at it…not yet. Her family was escorted in—mom was crying and her little brother appeared fearful—no father. They sat next to an elderly woman in the front row that I hadn’t met before.
I have no idea what the priest said that day because as soon as he started talking my mind went to the images I knew of this amazing young woman. Her room was painted in purple. Let me rephrase that—her entire room was painted in purple—including the ceiling! The walls were lined with teenage posters and Polaroid pictures of her and her friends, trees, fish and her family. She took Polaroid pictures of everything! She had a huge fish tank on top of her dresser that held a multitude of fish that she cared for. Each time I entered the room I was taken aback by the amount of clothes that could be found on the floor. She would always say with a giggle, “my mom is going to be so pissed that I didn’t pick up my room before you came over.”
She was obsessed with death and what happens after one dies. Each of my visits would end with her asking me, “Before you go…tell me one more thing that the Bible says about heaven.” I would then tell her another fact from the Bible that I had looked up prior to going to her home…she would get quiet and just think it over. Sometimes she asked about hell…I would answer that as well. She often asked me about Jesus and how I was so sure that He was real…I answered her.
I was this amazing young woman’s hospice nurse. She was 13 when I met her and she was enduring end-stage leukemia. I was responsible for administering antibiotics via her PICC line for the pneumonia she had contracted. She lived with her mother and 6 year old brother in a third floor apartment. Her mother worked full-time and she babysat her brother during the summer…it was summer. She was like any other 13 year old who had to stay home and babysit her little brother—annoyed. She was far too weak to leave the house and do anything else but she still was annoyed.
Her mom’s shaky voice pulled my mind back to the present…to her funeral. Her mom talked lovingly of her 14 year old daughter whom she would miss terribly. She told of her bravery, her passions and her fears. She thanked all those that had helped them during the last 6 months of her life…and then she lost it…and we all lost it…
The funeral ended and I felt sick…my head hurt so bad from trying desperately not to cry…I felt strange. I was just her nurse and I only knew her for 6 months…I figured I didn’t have the right to feel so sad. I now know how wrong that was, but at the time I didn’t realize it was OK. As I walked to her mom to give her a hug I prayed for strength. Her mom hugged me and cried…she asked me to wait a second and she went to her purse and came back to me. She handed me a Polaroid picture of her daughter and I…the picture she had taken of us the first day I met them. The tears wouldn’t stop. The Polaroid picture is in my Bible…
We nurses do make a difference and we do have a right to feel and experience things with our patients. It is when we let the patient into our hearts that they then feel the care we have for them.
A relationship can then form and that is when a shared human connection can happen. Not all patients want that and there are patients that are so difficult that it just won’t happen…but on any given work day there is someone out there in patient land that needs their nurse to connect with them…believe me—it is worth it!