A tiny bit of a woman. So small I could fit her in my pocket.
Years of living made it hard for her to walk so we help her shuffle to the bedside. I offer her a chair but she looks at me with hopeful eyes and whispers, I want to give her a kiss.
Here is where the numbers on monitors, test results and skilled care become background noise. Where my heart catches because I know what this means and I’m humbled to bear witness.
I bring down the side rail and secure so many tubes, lines and machines. I stand back and watch this elderly woman hover over her grown child and then kiss her face. I’m not sure of the words she whispers but oh I feel them blow across my heart.
Love and grief. And probably good bye.
I am a stranger. A bystander in this world of hope and despair in which they have been plunged. I discover within myself this fluidity of grace that only Creator can give. A juxtaposition of detachment and empathy enables me to gently lead them into the depths of sadness.
Like a guard of understanding I stand at attention, close by as the doctor explains the grim prognosis. They turn away and tears fall. He tells them he will be happy to be wrong and that he is sorry. But grief and loss are breaking open and no one can respond to him. I move forward and nod, unspoken medical jargon meaning I’ve got this.
When I was a younger nurse I would have let the turbulence of this moment push me to offer platitudes. In my naivete I believed I could defuse suffering but now I understand only the presence of God carries a mother, a daughter, a brother and a best sister through the pain of loss. There is only the moving through it, never the escaping.
They are beginning their good bye.
I bring Kleenex. I bring answers to questions. I bring another chair. And as grief spills out I bring a cup water.
As I fill the waxy cups I think about Jesus.
Jesus, this is all I can do right now.
I cannot bring the miracle they need. I cannot bring back yesterday.
But I can bring a cup of water. And I can stay inside the pain with them.
When shock and grief momentarily subside they stumble out together, this band of broken hearts. And now I am alone with her, this woman in the prime of her life losing her life.
They say she is funny and kind.
This morning I think about her. I wonder if she made it through the night. I think about her family…her frail mother’s kiss, her daughter’s graceful composure, her sister’s open grief…and I ask Creator to comfort them all with His presence.
Sometimes in life we want to fix situations and people, we want to rescue and diffuse. We want to do more than we are able and it’s frustrating. We feel like we should do more. The fact is only God can do the miraculous, only He can change hearts and lives and outcomes.
Maybe hugs, kleenex and cups of water are simply bridges people cross to keep from drowning in their deepest grief.