Visit from an angel
Her name was Sarah Walin and I watched her die a long and painful death. The hardest part of it all was waiting with her for her family to visit. Each morning, she powdered her nose and painted color on her cheeks trying to disguise the pallor of death. Like a kid waiting for Christmas morning, her heart was filled with expectation when she had us prop her up in bed, eager to greet the people she had spent a lifetime loving. Long after breakfast she would drift off to sleep with quiet words of optimism. "Maybe tomorrow," she would whisper.
As she grew weaker, there were calls to family members with new promises made. Occasionally, a relative would stick their head in for five minutes only to find Sarah resting. Not wishing to rouse the woman, they left before letting her know they had visited. A cute card or cheery note was left but not the hugs she had looked forward to. Sweet Sarah was thrilled that they had come at all.
One day, I had stepped into her room to find a petite girl of about ten with long brown curls and a dimpled smile sitting in the chair next to Sarah's bed. The pair chatted about childhood adventures. It was an animated conversation about the strange feeling of sand on your feet and the squishy ooze of mud through your toes on a rainy day. Sarah wriggled her toes under the covers as if experiencing the wonder. The girl went on to compare the softness of a rose petal to the cozy smoothness of fur on a baby kitten. I couldn't help but smile, as I watched the woman gently pet the edge of blanket. I was intrigued by their dialogue, but neither of them seemed to know I was in the room. I assumed the girl was her granddaughter and exited to allow them the much needed time together.
For the next several days the child would visit and Sarah seemed to rally. She was stronger and happier than I had ever seen. Always, their conversation revolved around the simple pleasures of life. The joy of climbing trees, the tired ache of your legs from running, or the pure soothing comfort of slipping into bed after a long day were just a few of their topics, It was as if the girl were describing all of the things Sarah could no longer experience. Through the eyes of this child, Sarah revisited her own childhood.
I came to know the girl as Alicia. She carried a gentle grace about her and behind her bright blue eyes was the wisdom of untold years. Her lashes were long and thick with a plush look of velvet. Her cherub-like cheeks cast a rosy hue. I convinced myself that Sarah must have been her twin as a child. For my part, I think I was enamored by the child for the love she had brought to my patient.
When Sarah would tire, Alicia would read to her from books she had brought from the library. The tales she read were youthful adventures of mystery and intrigue with a single heroine at the center of the story. Her sweet voice was lyrical as it danced across the words on the page. It was easy to be captivated by the child and wish to pull up a chair to listen. Each story that she read reminded me of Joan of Arc. The characters were strong, real, and spirited with a fight to be won. Behind each tale, there stood an encrypted moral and a lifelong purpose. Faith was the one visible element in their fight.
I stepped into the room on November 26th at nine-ten p.m. to find Alicia sitting quietly while she held Sarah's hand. The only light in the room was a glow coming from behind the girl's head.
"Alicia, do you have a ride home? It is quite late," I said.
"Yes, they'll be coming for me soon. In a matter of moments."
"I want you to know how much good you've done for your Grandma. You were exactly what her heart needed."
"Oh but, she isn't my Grandma. We just met and became good friends. We found each other at the end of a prayer."
"A prayer?" I asked.
'She prayed and I listened. She was afraid of dying alone."
I sat down in the chair across from the girl, like I had wanted to do so many times when she had read to the woman. Turning towards Sarah I watched as her respirations slowed. I felt for her pulse against her cool and fragile skin. The beat under my fingers was weak and barely palpable. My heart broke at seeing the woman's time was nearing an end. I ached for Sarah's passing, but also for a child so young to be exposed to the finality of death. Just like Sarah, she had no family near to offer comfort.
Quietly, I watched as Sarah took her last breath. It took only a moment and with the last rise of her chest a simple peace seemed to adorn her face. There were tears on my cheeks as I said my final farewell. Nurses are never immune to the pain but only seasoned enough to tuck it away until a later time of reflection. I wiped my face and brushed back my hair hoping to gain composure. I wasn't looking forward to breaking the news to Alicia.
As I turned to face the child, I realized the chair sat empty. Only a hint of the glowing light remained. My eyes scanned the dark room .It was vacant except for Sarah and I. I rose from my seat, clicked on the lights with plans to check the hall for the girl. I didn't want her to be alone in her grief. With the light shining, my eyes caught sight of the many copper pennies circling the bed. I counted ten, heads-up pennies from heaven. I could feel the cool shiver down my spine and I swear I heard the giggle of little girls dancing in the clouds.
I exited the room in search of another nurse to verify time of death, as required. I no longer ached for Sarah's plight. She was in a good and gracious place.
Word Count 1065