The day we discontinued life support for my mother turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of my life. This is a love letter to the nurses who cared for my mother around the time of her death and all the nurses around the world who are everyday heroes.
My Mom Had Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer
She was staying with me while she completed the second round of chemo. I learned after her death how much she would brag about me to the nurses who cared for her. She was proud of me and that I chose nursing as a career. I didn’t spend time with my mother during her chemo sessions and not because I was too busy–she preferred spending time with her nurses at The Cancer Treatment Center of Philadelphia. At first, it stung but after time in reflection, I understand it completely.
Upon first being diagnosed, my mom fought bravely through surgery and overcame a nasty infection that lasted months. She had a wonderful home care nurse who helped her get into fighting shape. She left her home in North Carolina to have chemo in Philadelphia and came to stay with me. She wore the Cancer Fighter T-shirts and sipped her coffee from the branded mugs. She wanted the world to know that the battle was on, but as the months wore on and her cancer spread it was clear that she was on the losing side.
Ever since I was in nursing school learning about the many roles nurses play in the lives of patients, I knew that I wanted to be a comforter for my mother in her last days. As I prepared myself emotionally for her death I imagined sitting with her at chemo, holding hands. She’d tell me stories about her life and family members long gone. It would be like in the movies and we’d do all the wonderful things people do when a loved one is close to death.
So Much for My End-of-Life Fantasies
She told me not to bother coming to chemo, said she enjoyed spending time with the nurses. What? I felt rejected and soon I became a car service transporting her to and from chemo. For the first few weeks, I was tight and resentful. All I could think was,Â ‘How can she not let me be there for her during this scary time?’ Then one day I noticed something.
Every time I came to pick her up from chemo she’d have a big smile on her face. The nurses and nursing assistants would have her wrapped in a warm blanket, nice and cozy in her treatment chair. Her table would be full of all her favorite snacks. On the ride home, she would share how she felt listened to and well cared for when she spent time with her nurses. My mom was happy and she wasn’t scared. This was the case every time.
A few weeks later, I received a call from an ICU doctor telling me to get to the hospital ASAP and to call my family together. I don’t remember how I kept it together but I do remember a nurse holding me up when I could barely stand. She was a complete stranger who held me close as I soaked her uniform with tears.
I Want to Take a Moment to Say, “Thank You”
I appreciate you for caring for my mother, bathing her, touching and comforting her when I couldn’t. I’m grateful to those of you who whispered in her ear and assured her that all is well. As a nurse, I’ve had the honor of being with many people during their final minutes. I’ve always appreciated and respected those sacred moments. I believe the universe paid the favor back to my family by surrounding her with superb nurses and caregivers.
You helped to keep her alive long enough for all my brothers and sisters to be present on her last day. My mother was there for each of us as we took our first breaths and we were there for her as she took her last. It was a beautiful death.
May 6—12th is National Nurses Week. Nurses are your friends, neighbors, your sisters, or brothers. You may recognize them in their scrubs or even business attire but what you won’t see is the invisible capes they wear. Nurses are your everyday superheroes. Next time you see a nurse, acknowledge them for the lives they touch and thank them for their service. Happy Nurses’ Week!
-Editors’ Note: Originally published in May 2017.