The Hug Heard Around the World
At the end of life, a hospice nurse walks a fine line of being respectful while at the same time providing information that helps families as they make decisions. Knowing how to guide the conversation along with gentleness, can provide families with much-needed support.
“After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:5
I can hear muted conversations in various rooms as I walk down the hospital corridor and knock gently on the sturdy hospital room door before pushing it open to take in the scene before me: a woman of early old age disappearing into white sheets while taking short, needy gasps of air—flimsy connections to this side, her spirit already gliding away toward an irresistible kingdom of light and love. Her husband, shoulders sagging under the unwelcome weight of heavy grief, grasps her limp hand in his own. And then the son, younger than expected given his parents’ age—eyes knowing and accepting, already taking in the inevitable outcome.
I invite them to a corner down the hall where the weak afternoon winter sun can do its best work, concentrating light and heat, a welcome warmth for such a cold topic. The three of us stand together, and I say a few words about hospice, explaining the different ways we can help. The husband interrupts me with a question, “When can we get that tube out of her nose?” As he asks, the words crack and break, a soft thunder in our midst. Then he adds, “We’ve been married for sixty two years. I just want her to be peaceful if she can’t get better.”
We then talk about honoring her wishes, trying to do what she would do if she could. As I ease the words out, I present them on a platter of choices, carefully, gently, so as not to disrupt the tenuous web of trust that is weaving between us. At the end of life, the challenge for the hospice nurse is to help the family make decisions while guiding but not controlling the conversation. The invitation is for the family to unlock their knowledge of their loved one’s heart, determining what her choices would be. The hospice nurses’ experience, knowledge and spiritual heart help her ask the questions and provide the information that make this path a little less rocky.
The son then speaks and says, “We all agree that mom would not want to be kept going if she can’t get better.” His words confirm the finality of the decision, and he struggles through tears to speak them.
The father looks to the son, his eyes spilling over too, and they reach toward one another, locking into an embrace of love, cemented by the pain of grief. As they hold each other, beautiful men mourning, their shoulders shake in unison, creating waves of sound that ripple around them there in the hall, and silently travel through the window, across the parking lot and into outer space, going on forever into eternity. True love doesn’t end. It travels instead, at the speed of light, this powerful force wrapping itself around our universe.
As a hospice nurse, I am invited to attend this ceremony of parting. I am a guest at the proceedings and must respect what is taking place, keeping my place in the holiness of the moment, as I witness communion between two men who love the best woman in their lives. My role is to serve, to hold forth the elements that allow them to hold the truth, to examine it and then partake. If I can be a simple conduit of mercy and kindness, then through some mystery of grace, this powerful love will boomerang back from the edges of time and carry them through the journey ahead.
Holy One, Grant us, as nurses, the ability to serve our patients with gentleness and kindness; give us a heart of love and respect as we witness others’ holy moments.
2/2/15Last edit by traumaRUs on Mar 31, '15
I am a Parish Nurse and a Hospice Nurse. I have been a nurse for over thirty years and I continue to find new challenges and a great deal of fulfillment in my profession. I keep at blog at joyeastridge.wordpress.com.
Joined: Jan '15; Posts: 333; Likes: 1,087Feb 9, '15Thank you for being there for your patients and their families to help them as they prepare to say their final goodbyes. You so beautifully captured the precious moments that we as nurses are so privileged to be a part of. I, too have been part of that scene many times, and each time, though it is still difficult, it is a blessing to me to witness the love between family members and, as you said, "the holiness of the moment".Feb 9, '15Thank you for your comment. Yes, it is so true that we stand as witnesses. Our challenge is to be a help and not a hindrance, isn't that so?Mar 5, '16Quote from Kooky KorkyThanks so much! I don't know you but I already like you and I love your on line name. Fun. Have a wonderful day. JoyJoy, you seem like a wonderful person, someone I want to emulate. God bless you.
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