Mother of Sorrows: Rachel's Story

  1. One night I admitted an 89 YO female patient who was one of our "frequent flyers" due to chronic anemia, as well as a host of other medical problems. She came in every few weeks or so for GI bleeds requiring multiple blood transfusions, and on top of that she fell and fractured her pelvis 6 weeks prior to this admission, and she'd been in pain ever since.

    Even with her critically low H&H, she was pleasant, cooperative, and did her best to "not be a burden to you girls" as she put it. As I started her IV and began the transfusion (which she bragged to her daughter "didn't even hurt!"), she began to talk about her full life, which had included two long and happy marriages as well as the births of nine children, running a business, and seeing all the changes the past nine decades had brought about.

    Then, for some reason, we got to talking about losses........and she revealed that only six of her children had lived to adulthood, and one of those died of a massive MI at age 45, only a week after his 7-year-old son had been killed in a house fire. The other three she'd lost were a newborn, an 11-month-old, and a 19-month-old. Then she was widowed in her early 50s after a 30-year marriage to a man who told her, just before he passed away, whom he wanted her to marry after he was gone. Of course, at the time she was in shock and denied that it would ever happen, but sure enough, several years later she fell in love with this man and married him. They had twenty "wonderful, wonderful" years together before HE died and she was alone yet again, to face the tragic deaths of her son and grandson with only her living children "and the grace of Jesus" to sustain her. And on top of all that, she was the only one left of eleven siblings........all her brothers and sisters had passed on, the last one only a few months before.

    Now, I've been through what I used to think was more than my fair share of tragedy......all that's left of my own family of origin is my sixtysomething-year-old sister, and I've buried several close friends as well as my second child. But as I listened to Rachel's story---told without the least hint of bitterness or self-pity---I couldn't help thinking how trifling my sorrows really were when compared with this woman's incredible suffering, and how beautiful she was despite the pallor of her skin and the pain which etched itself across her forehead.

    Of course, I'll never know how she had arrived at that point.......surely she must have raged and cried, maybe even cursed God and the fates for taking her cherished loved ones from her. But her serenity in the face of the worst that life can dish out was genuine, and it struck me how sometimes we meet angels disguised as everyday human beings. And I couldn't help but think that there was a lesson in it for me........I'd been a bit cranky due to staffing cutbacks and the correspondingly increased workload, my back was out, and I badly needed a vacation. I was also disgusted with politics, and seriously concerned for my younger daughter who, at the time, was a soldier serving in Iraq.

    All that seemed rather petty in the light of day, though, and maybe that's what that night's encounter was about. Sometimes I go about my life feeling somewhat injured, as though life has thrown me too many curves, and lately I've gotten the sense that I'm growing old and irrelevant. But all my woes, put together, are as pale as Rachel's lovely face when seen in the light of such incredible faith and dignity.

    Mother of sorrows, I thought that night as I watched her sleep, exhausted after the trials of her admission process and the telling of her life's history. Yet I knew she wouldn't accept that label, as surely as I knew that I would look at my own life differently from then on. I remember how she thanked me several times for the good care I was giving her, but it was she who gave me what I desperately needed at that particular moment in time.

    This is why I've always loved working with the elderly. They have so much to teach us, so much wisdom to share, if we will only take the time to listen before they are all gone.
    Last edit by VivaLasViejas on Aug 2, '09
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    About VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN Guide

    Joined: Sep '02; Posts: 26,953; Likes: 44,682
    RN and blogger extraordinaire; from OR , US
    Specialty: 20 year(s) of experience in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych


  3. by   jax
    You have made me stop, think and reassess. Thank-you.
    My day is just beginning over here in the southern hemisphere, I'm now in a different headspace, and will have a better day, thanks mjlrn. jax
  4. by   leslie :-D
    and that is why i have always honored our geriatric population. their lives are awe-inspiring and i've learned so much from these people. they truly epitomize grace and wisdom at its' finest. thank you for sharing.
  5. by   VivaLasViejas
    You're very welcome. I think the "Greatest Generation" is a most appropriate title for this incredible group of people.....our world will never see another generation like them. No one can take their places.
  6. by   crankyasanoldma
    That was touching.

    I've often felt we need to pay more attention to our most vulnerable and valuable populations- the young and the elderly.

    I don't deal with either in my line of work, but I'm a grandma (and grandpa)magnet in my spare time. :chuckle
  7. by   jnette
    Quote from earle58
    and that is why i have always honored our geriatric population. their lives are awe-inspiring and i've learned so much from these people. they truly epitomize grace and wisdom at its' finest. thank you for sharing.

    Thank you mjlrn, for sharing this. I was deeply touched. I have always had such admiration for those who have sufferd tremendous losses yet carry themselves with grace, dignity, and better yet, a smile and no bitterness.

    I believe we come in contact with certain ppl not by mere coincidence, for it it through such as these that we are moved to reflection, and are blessed by the wisdom of their words and their very presence.

    After the privilege of such an encounter, I have always found myself in a blissful state of gratitude. Kiss her gently on the forhead for me as she sleeps.
  8. by   hmccartn
    What a beautifully written post. thanks for taking the time to share it with us.
  9. by   leslie :-D
    Quote from jnette

    After the privilege of such an encounter, I have always found myself in a blissful state of gratitude. Kiss her gently on the forhead for me as she sleeps.
    what an absolutely lovely, lovely thought. :kiss
  10. by   VivaLasViejas
    I wish I could, jnette.......but I'm not working this weekend.

    I told this story to my sister this evening......she had a near-death experience about 15 years ago, and since then she's been very in tune with the idea that we all have guardian angels. As we sat at the dining room table, reflecting on our many blessings, other family members began drifting in, and we all wound up talking and laughing for hours. There's been so much going on in my sister's life these past few months and we've been so tense with each other that we've felt we were doing well just to stay out of each other's way, and suddenly all of that was gone, like the last cold breath of winter. The kids sat there at the table---grown ones and teenagers alike---and we all ate egg-and-cheese sandwiches and cracked jokes and bantered back and forth just like we used to.

    And I couldn't help thinking that this was the stuff of which a happy life is made.....the security in knowing that every face surrounding you belongs to someone who has seen you in your best AND worst moments, and loves you anyway; the small joys of noticing the new depth in your youngest son's voice or the loving tone in your husband's; the sudden sureness, as your grown daughter strokes your hair affectionately, that she will be doing this same thing when you close your eyes for the last time.

    So many things to be grateful for.......this is indeed the lesson I must have been meant to take away from this experience.

    I think my newest guardian angel would agree.
  11. by   Stitchie
    I too, love the elderly, and always try to treat them with compassion.

    Your story reminded me of why they are a delight, and I'll take the 75 year old over the 14 month old any day of the week!

    I have to agree, they are the greatest generation. They have witnessed some truly awe-inspiring turns of events: from the invention of television to the WWW, to camera - cell phones, and microwaves and DVD's. Even washing machines -- can you imagine what our lives would be like without them? And yet this isn't what the elderly focus on; they focus on their kids, their families, the people with whom they've shared their lives.

    Thanks for sharing that story. It was beautifully written, and very enjoyable. :kiss
  12. by   jkaee
    Thanks, mjlrn, for a wonderful post! That is why I love working geriatrics......they can teach us so much, sometimes without saying a word.

    It is a priveledge and an honor to care for these people. If only more people would feel that way.....

  13. by   dansamy
    I love to listen to Depression-era & WWII stories. The concentration camp stories always make me cry. I cry every time I watch Schindler's List. I also cry when I see pictures of Hiroshima & Nagasaki(sp?). The utter destruction was horrific.
  14. by   LesJenRN
    mjlrn you're writing, and the way that you put your feelings into words, it beautiful.... i have tears in my eyes after reading that...