Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The kindness of strangers

I have often wondered about how a seemingly chance meeting can have a profound impact on your life.  I have longed stopped believing in coincidences yet I am often surprised when it happens.  Sometimes these chance meetings are only that - just meetings.  Sometimes, however, they turn into a deeper connection that time and distance do not diminish.  

On July 1, 2010, I got a phone call from my sister that our mother had been taken to the hospital from her memory care facility in an unresponsive state.  This had happened on two other occasions and both of those times Hospice was called in to provide palliative care.  But the other two times, our mother revived.  This time it was different.  Mother's major systems were beginning to shut down and her MD predicted that she would not survive more than 24 to 48 hours.  Hpspice was once again called and the decision was made to transfer our mom to my sister's home.  I left work early, drove home and updated my family, packed a few things, and drove the 5 hours to my sister's home hoping I would make it in time to say goodbye.

I arrived at my sister's home shortly after the ambulance had transported our mom.  The hospice nurse was there and making sure we had all of the comfort medications and supplies, etc.  A short time later a beautiful young woman arrived, complete with a warm smile, and an air of confidence. Ashley was our night CNA assigned to assist us with caring for our mother and yet doing so much more.  I found it difficult to sleep that night so Ashley and I stayed up and talked.  Although I am old enough to be her mother, it felt like we had been friends forever.  She told me about her diagnosis of Leukemia when she was a young teen and her successful remission.  We talked about her dancing and her career with a ballet company that was cut short by another cancer diagnosis and her current treatments.  She had just started chemo the month before and had shaved off over 18 inches of her hair.  I talked about my work as a therapist and my how I was struggling with my doctoral program. We talked about my new grandson and how I wished that he would have had the chance to know my mom.  We talked about her plans to enter nursing school and to become a Hospice nurse as soon as possible.  While we talked she cared for my mother - gently, professionally, compassionately.  

Over the course of the next 9 days, I looked forward to Ashley's shifts and our talks.  The night mom died, it was Ashley that came upstairs to wake me - giving me a chance to tell mom goodbye before she drew her last breath.  It was Ashley that took a beautiful picture of our entwined hands - my sister's, my mom's, and mine - before the funeral home took her away.  A chance meeting with an angel who turned out to be a lifelong friend.  

Six years later a lot has happened.  We have never seen each other in person again but we stay in touch.  She is a nurse.  She got married and is an amazing step-mother. She beat cancer for the second time.  She has hair again but this is the way I remember her

and the way I remember the way she provided care to me as much as she did my mom.  

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