I feel the importance of balance in life and as a result have
chosen a profession that follows the philosophy of “right work”. I am an
oncology nurse taking care of cancer patients all day. I also used to work as a
Hospice nurse and one Christmas learned a valuable lesson.
It was Christmas Eve and I was on-call for Hospice and I was called to the
bedside of a dying patient. He lived in an exclusive residential area just above beautiful Big Sur. This is the wild California coast at its best and this was one of the most
beautiful multimillion dollar homes I have ever seen, decorated for the Holidays
with thousands of dollars worth of decorations. The patient’s wife let
me in and took me through the maze of famous art work and luxury and into a bedroom with fabulous views of the Pacific ocean . There in a
huge bed lay my dying patient, alone except for his much younger 5th wife.
Famous for some reason, rich beyond belief, this man, who had everything, had
been unable to avoid the throes of the beast and his cancer was minutes from
bringing his life to an end. I asked his wife if there was anyone else to be called as he was getting ready for his final journey and soon it would be too late for goodbyes. She answered they were alone. I stayed at his bedside and held his wife while her tears soaked into my white lab
coat. I was saddened by the loneliness of the man who in life had everything but in death was alone. He passed quietly and easily into the night world, with only his wife and a stranger at his side.
I left there for another call to the bedside of a patient in East Salinas,
the section of our area where Latino immigrants live.
Tired, a little scared but determined to do my job, I sped over to the “bad
side” of town. I arrived at this patient’s house and saw group of young men spilling out of the front doorway. These men had the look we have all become too familiar with “Gang Bangers”. As I pulled up they rushed my car, calling out “La Infermera” “the Spanish word for nurse. The whole group surrounded me and we went inside to the bedside of a very small, gnarled 91 year old lady.
She gave me a smile and with labored breath, waved her hand around the
room and said “Mi familia”.
There were many more people inside, family, friends, all awake and supporting each other and their great grandma in her last moments on this earth. We talked, held hands, prayed, and laughed as they told me stories about this tiny thing barely making a bump in the covers but who had clearly made a huge mark on the lives of many people. This was a poor family
and the house had very little in it. There were almost no Holiday decorations but it
was incredibly clean and well tended. Finally, my little lady peacefully eased away on the morning sunrise and left her family to grieve her loss but to also celebrate her life and celebrate they did. There was a huge show of love and gratitude for each other AND me and I left feeling like I had made a difference.
On the way home the irony of life stuck me and I was changed
by this long night with the grim reaper. We can do a lot of material things in
this world, make money, buy the best and live an exclusive lifestyle. But
when death strips us of all our worldly goods, what’s left- FAMILY- the
people we have brought into this world, the generations to follow them. This
is the true mark we make. Imagine your last night on this earth, are you alone and surrounded by riches or surrounded by the most real and important thing in this world ….Family? No matter how we try, that last moment will come sooner or later. It’s not too late to change your last moments before your final journey, not too late to make a difference for yourself.
This holiday season start the process so that you can go there without regrets
or sorrow that you didn’t take time to do more of the simple, small things and that when your time here ends, you go in the in the arms of the most important people in the world…Family.
This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.