I believe in the kindness of strangers. I have reaffirmed this belief because my 93 year old mother was recently hospitalized. Old age diminishes us and blurs the lines of relationships between mother-daughter, father-son; one of the hardest transitions for an adult child to make is becoming the parent figure for an aging parent. When our parents cannot take care of themselves, or we are not able to care for them, we must learn to rely on the kindness of strangers. These strangers are the care givers who touch our lives and help us to navigate the uncharted waters of personal crisis.
Until this recent health setback, my mother had been essentially independent. Now, suddenly, she was in need of around the clock care, something I could not provide. There is so little dignity left to those who are ill. Modesty withers in the fluorescent light of a hospital room, and the ministering hands of a nurse can be all there is between us and despair. Nurses don’t get paid CEO salaries. They work long hours and inconvenient shifts. Nurses wipe tears, bodily fluids and fears away, and when they are good, they make us smile in the face of anxiety and disappointment. The nurses attending my mother became my surrogates. They were there when I couldn’t be – in the middle of the night and at the first break of day. They provided information, counseling, insight, hope, advocacy, and humor during the weeks my mother was hospitalized. However, at the outset, they were all strangers.
When I had to leave the hospital each evening, it made all the difference to have a confident nurse come into the room and promise to look after my mother whose medications made her moods swing erratically. When her condition at first resisted treatment, the nurses on the floor were the liaisons between me and the doctors whose visits I too often seemed to miss. These care givers, once strangers, quickly became trusted allies. Their care and caring certainly contributed to my mother’s recovery. However, just as important as their medical expertise were their many acts of kindness. In the three weeks of her hospital stay, my mother never felt adrift in a sea of strangers. The key to our comfort level in an unsettling environment was kindness. From the admitting ER nurse’s patience and reassuring smile to the irreverent Irish wit of the head nurse on the hospital floor, kind strangers made all the difference. In this uncertain world, we are all strangers to someone in whose life we can make a difference with a warm smile, a well-chosen word, or an unsolicited act of kindness.