Your title is "Nurse" or "Health Care Assistant", but you are so much more than that. And I know who you are! Among all nurses, yes, I know you!
It was you who gave quality nursing care for my dying husband with such amazing kindness and compassion. It was you who helped me to see things that I couldn't see - or perhaps didn't want to see. It was you who sat with me after tending to his needs - sat in silence when there were no words to express our shared grief. It was you who prayed with me and dried my tears. You touched my hand and comforted my spirit with your understanding heart.
Yes, I know you!
At first, your help was received with apprehension. There was reluctance on my part to give up my caregiving role to a stranger. And my husband - well, he totally rejected your services even though you brought gifts of compassion and understanding. He was so stubborn! No one was going to lift him from the bed but me! And certainly no one was going to bathe him!
But you persisted. Each day, after his blood pressure check and your nursing documentation of his physical status, you proceeded to create a bond, to open the door of his heart which had been tightly closed because of fear and regret. You became his friend, listening to stories I had heard a thousand times, but they were new to you.
Slowly but surely, you gained his trust. He finally gave in to your gentle persistence and allowed you to bathe him and tend to his personal needs.
Several months went by and your presence in our lives became a priceless gift. Because of you, I was able to relinquish some of the care giving tasks that had fatigued me over the previous two years when I was the only caregiver. Because of you, I could rest a bit and restore my body and my spirit. Because of you, I was confident that my husband was being cared for with dignity and respect. Because of you ...
Soon you began to occupy a very special place in our hearts - a place of high honor. Perhaps I shall call you "angel." Yes! "Angel of Mercy" - "Angel of Compassion" - "Angel of Love."
And then one day, in a serious and somber voice, but still in a whisper because of his weakness, my husband told me that he was in love with another woman! My heart sank. In that moment, I totally forgot that he was completely bedridden and unable to accomplish even the most simple of tasks for himself. He certainly was unable to leave the house and become involved with someone else! I was confused.
Then he looked at me with an impish smile and confessed that the "other woman" was you, our Angel of Mercy, our Angel of Love.
Over the days and weeks that you tended to my husband's needs and gave me a much-needed respite, he had fallen in love. Your eyes had met at first on the level of stranger to stranger, then caregiver to patient, then friend to friend. You both were devoted to making the best out of what was happening - his decline, his movement toward the end of his journey.
On that last day, when you looked at me with tears in your eyes, I was able to know without words that the end was near. Because of you I was able to spend those last moments with him before the coma engulfed his spirit, knowing that the two of us - my husband's "new love" and I - had cared for him in an exceptional way.
Yes, you were my caregiver friend. My husband and I were walking along a road not of our choosing. You gave us strength when our hearts were so strained. You nourished us with gifts of love and compassion. You listened to our cares and concerns. You touched my shoulder. You gave a knowing smile, a nod of understanding.
My heart was uplifted because of you. We became kindred spirits, you and I, upon the road unknown and I am so much better for having known you.
It's been several years now since we shared those sacred caregiving moments. I'm not certain how it was that we said goodbye, or if we had the opportunity to really talk on that last day. Although we knew the end was approaching, things seemed to happen so quickly and I drifted through the moments without an awareness of what was said or not said.
Did I ever really thank you - I mean really? Can you ever really know how much your presence meant to both of us? Oh, I know you had other patients, other families who probably fell in love with you! And you moved quickly, I'm sure, on to another patient, another family, to begin again the cycle of caregiving, nurturing, and loving.
I guess it's never too late to say "thank you," but those words seem so inadequate. I wish I could find where you are and spend time talking with you over a cup of coffee. You would see that now I am strong and making a difference by giving back to the community of caregivers who gave so selflessly to me and my husband.
I'd like to tell you what a difference you made. Most probably you don't often receive the praise and recognition you deserve. Most probably, you don't know that your patients and their families fall in love with you. Most probably, you don't get to hear them say, "We love you."
And so today I am writing this love letter. It comes with the utmost respect for your nursing profession and the highest regard for the difficult tasks you perform each day, always knowing the end will come and you will move on to another assignment.
It took quite a while for me to process my husband's illness and death and finally to make sense of it. I see it as a perfect plan to bring me to where I am in my life now - a caregiver advocate with first-hand knowledge of the roller coaster ride, the valleys of despair and the mountaintops of triumph.
In my role as caregiver advocate, I encourage you to be mindful of your feelings and accepting of the impact your patients have on your heart and spirit. Please don't deny the intensity of the mission to which you dedicate yourself. It is a mission sometimes without reward, but I promise that you are building a treasure chest of grace.
Each of your patients is like a golden coin that is gently placed in this treasure chest, glistening with the sunlight that your presence brings into the lives of the sick and the dying - and their families. What an incredible contribution all nurses make to the sacred cycle of living and dying!