My first job, after I graduated from college, was as a recreation therapist in a nursing
home. I was 22 years old and pretty naïve when it came to caring for older people. But I had wonderful mentors, LuAnn, my supervisor, and Bonnie, a music therapist. They had worked at the facility for several years and were highly regarded by the residents, their families and co-workers alike. I did a lot of observing and they patiently answered the plethora of questions that I had.
During my first week at the care center, an older, small-framed woman who propelled her
wheelchair with her feet, stated to me rather matter-of-factly and with a raspy
voice, “Go get my cigarettes!” I had met her earlier in the week and knew that her name was Marcie. I asked her for her room number and proceeded to retrieve them.
I knocked on the open door and entered the room. It was a two-bed room and the beds were
separated by an orange paisley curtain. Inside, there was a nightstand with an over-the-bed light, a corkboard that had several greeting cards tacked up on it and a small closet. I saw her Marlboro’s sitting on top of the nightstand and noticed that there was a person lying in the bed on the other side of the curtain by the windows. I walked around to introduce myself and to let her know the reason that I was in her room.
When I strode past Marcie’s foot board I could see an older gentleman holding the hand
of the woman in the bed. Her eyes were closed.
“Hello,” I said, extending my hand for him to shake. “My name is Shannon and I’m a recreation therapist. This is my first week. Is this your wife?”, I asked.
“Yes,” he said softly.
“How is she doing?”, I inquired.
“It’s only a matter of time now. They just took her off life support,” he responded sadly.
I was stunned! I wanted to run out of that room and out of that care center! Instead, I said, “I’m so sorry,” and our watery eyes met and I felt like he could feel the love that my heart held for him.
I found myself looking at the black and white photographs that were framed and hung all around her side of the room. I saw one sepia toned picture with a young woman in what looked like a fancy wedding gown and a dapper looking fellow in a military uniform.
“Is this your wedding photo?”, I inquired.
“Yes”, he said. “We’ve been married for 62 years. She is the best thing that ever happened to me”.
We continued our conversation for a bit longer and I asked him if I could give him a hug and
we embraced. I asked him if he needed anything to eat or drink or if there was anything at all I could do for him before I left. He told me he was fine and thanked me for our chat.
I left and walked to the dayroom where Marcie was waiting and in her gravelly voice said, “Where the hell have you been?”
Speechless, I handed her the pack of cigarettes and proceeded to my office. I was grateful that it was empty and I started to cry. I looked up at the skylight above me and spoke aloud, “God, why am I here? You know that I don’t handle death well! So why am I working with people who will surely die while I am here?”
I hung my head, as tears streamed down my face, and as I did, I felt the sun’s rays
pouring through the skylight and washed over me with a feeling of peace that
filled my entire being. I felt like I was wrapped in love.
I looked up as the rays of sunshine kissed my face and simply said, “I will do your will."
I've learned a lot about death and dying all these years later and I cannot think of a more humbling calling than to help walk beside people as they journey home.