I awoke one morning to the sound of the telephone ringing beckoning me from my slumber. “Hello”, I said abruptly. “Cherie”, I heard on the other line, “are you awake”? It was my father’s soft and gentle voice that immediately made me stumble from bed. “Dad”, I asked, “what’s wrong”? “It’s your granddad”, he answered, and then an immediate pause ensued on the other end of the line.
My mind immediately flashed back to summers past and the visit to the grocery store as my grandfather proudly whispered to the cashier, “this is my granddaughter, don’t you think she is beautiful!” Then fast forward again, to my college graduation, and the trip to the mall to find my graduation attire, again whispering to the cashier, “this is my granddaughter and she is a nurse, don’t you think that is wonderful? I do.” This man, this wonderful human being, was all but being taken away from my memory.
“Dad, are you okay?” Immediately I heard my father sigh and then the words that I had been dreading to hear were immediately upon me. “Cherie, it’s not looking so good. I don’t think your grandfather is going to make it much longer, he is in a coma and he is getting so weak. I’m afraid he might not be…” and his voice trailed off. I could not fathom how this had come to be. I was not ready to say goodbye!! How could this be?
“Dad,” I replied, “I’m on my way, I’ll be there soon”. And with that we said our goodbyes.
I could not allow my grandfather to leave this earth without being there to say goodbye. This man who taught me so much about who I am and who I aspire to be could not leave without my hand upon his. I wasn’t sure I could do this, I’ve been here many times before, but never with someone so close to me. I have had the fortunate opportunity to comfort those who are at their final hours, to explain to families the process of death, and to guide them through it. And here I was faced with the reality that I was not only going to have to work through this, but I was going to have to, possibly, help others through it as well.
Once I arrived in my grandfathers room I was immediately frightened at what I saw. This could not be the man who held me in his arms so tightly I could barely breathe, who taught me how to dance, and who tickled me so much I thought I would never recover. The person I saw lying in bed was a fraction of what my grandfather used to be, so frail, and so fragile.
Immediately my father stood up and looked in my eyes, “Cherie, we’re so glad you came. I’ve been telling him you were on your way. I’m so sorry though, he probably won’t even know you are here”. With that, he gave me a hug and my grandmother was there to embrace me as well.
I stepped to his bedside and leaned over the bed. “Granddad?” I said, “Its Cherie, I’m here now.” With that I touched his hand and smiled. I was astounded when I felt his hands move and his eyes open. His eyes, at that moment, did not show any pain, but only love for the granddaughter he had always deemed “so special”. He moved his lips, but there was no sound. “I know granddad”, I said. “I love you so much”. With that he mouthed, “I love you too”. I could not contain my sorrow and my eyes welled up with tears. This continued on for a few more minutes and then almost as quickly as it had began it ended.
That moment was the explanation for all my years of schooling. I know how death comes, I know what happens to the body, how systems shut down, how it can devastate families or bring others closer. What I didn’t know was how death can be a beautiful experience even at the most painful time of all. How the spirit, or whatever you chose to call it, can chose to hang on for countless hours or days, until it feels rested enough to move on.
Shortly thereafter, my grandfather passed away and I was left with the overwhelming realization that I had witnessed what I deem a ‘miracle’. My grandfather had held on one last time to tell me how “special” I was and through that one encounter I hold so much love and admiration for all he has taught me, and continues to teach me, with each passing day.
Through this experience I believe, and hold in my heart, the capacity to touch each patient as I did my own grandfather. I look at them and realize that someone loves this individual with all their being and that, while in my care, they will receive the utmost respect, professionalism, and care that I am capable of giving. See this to me is what nursing is all about. This to me is what my “calling” for in life has become. If I am true to my heart and touch each patient as if they were my grandfather than I have truly embodied the definition of what nursing is to me.
I often sit back and reflect on that day and wish that I had a thousand more days to live like that one, but reality sinks in and I do not. However, I can move forward and continue on the legacy of my grandfathers words, isn’t she “wonderful?”
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