My experience showed me that…human experience continues beyond the grave...under the gaze of a God who loves and cares about each of us.
- Eben Alexander, neurosurgeon and author
Certain people make an impression on our minds and hearts that never goes away. This is as true for nurses as for everyone else.
Grace, my 70-year-old patient, was one of those people. On my first visit with her, Harold, her 50-year-old boyfriend, met me at the door with a smile and hardy handshake. They had been together for more that 25 years and loved each other dearly.
She was a tiny, thin, frail woman who had obviously had her breasts enhanced long ago and now they were literally the largest part of her. I mention this only because the couple kidded back and forth about their size. Their openness was refreshing; instead of trying to cover up and pretend otherwise, they laughed about it.
Grace was dying of lung cancer that had spread to other parts of her body, and she was often in a great deal of pain. She was ever so willing to listen to me about the medications that would give her the best relief and took them as directed.
When you see love in action, you cannot miss it. Harold cared about her comfort more than Grace did and he maintained a schedule that kept her pain-free. Nothing was too much for him to do for her; it is in these times when you see face-to-face compassion and tenderness at its very best.
They had moved from church to church during their lifetime together and had settled on one years before where they felt they heard the word of God spoken most clearly. Church friends and their pastor could be found at Grace’s bedside night and day, and you really saw “the communion of saints” in a very tangible way when you were with them.
As Grace began to die, I found myself sitting on the floor next to her bed more often than not. It was peaceful there. She was totally unafraid, with no questions left to ask. For me, it was like being in a small chapel, a very holy place. We would sit silently together with Harold nearby.
A few days before her death, as Grace was resting, she started to look all around the room. Her eyes grew wider and wider and she mouthed the words, “Oh, it’s so beautiful.” When I asked her what she was looking at, she said, “The flowers—they are all so beautiful; they move in the wind and none of them are the same color. The music is like nothing I ever heard before—like a symphony coming from everywhere. Can you hear it too?” She was looking at Harold as she asked and seemed to want him to be able to hear it too.
Love means wanting your loved one to be as happy as you are. You could not miss that between them. “Is this what heaven is like?” Grace asked. I assured her that God was giving her a glimpse of heaven now before he took her home to Himself. She smiled and nodded; those were the last words she spoke. She died the next day.