to think I was just a nurse," she began, "until one day a couple
of years ago. "It was noontime and I was feeding 'the feeders,' the
elderly who cannot feed themselves. Messy work, keeping track of each one
and making sure they keep the food in their mouths. I looked up as an elderly
gentleman passed by the dining room doorway. He was on his way down the
hall for a daily visit with his wife.
"Our eyes met over the distance, and I knew right then in my heart that I should be with them both that noon hour. My coworker covered for me, and I followed him down the corridor. 'When I entered the room, she was lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling with her arms across her chest. He was sitting in the chair at the end of the bed with his arms crossed, looking at the floor.
"I walked over to her and said, 'Susan, is there anything you want to share today? If so, I came down to listen.' She tried to speak but her lips were dry and nothing came out. I bent over closer and asked again.
"Susan, if you cannot say it with words, can you show me with your hands?" "She carefully lifted her hands off her chest and held them up before her eyes. They were old hands, with leathery skin and swollen knuckles, worn from years of caring, working and living. She then grasped the collar of her nightgown and began to pull.
"I unbuttoned the top buttons. She reached in and pulled out a long gold chain connected to a small gold locket. She held it up, and tears came to her eyes. "Her husband got up from the end of the bed and came over. Sitting beside her, he took his hands and tenderly placed them around hers. 'There is a story about this locket,' he explained, and he began to tell it to me.
"One day many months ago, we awoke early and I told Susan I could no longer care for her by myself. I could not carry her to the bathroom, keep the house clean, plus cook all the meals. My body could no longer do this. I, too, had aged. We talked long and hard that morning. She told me to go to coffee club and ask where a good place might be. I didn't return until lunch time. We chose here from the advice of others. On the first day, after all the forms, the weighing and the tests, the nurse told us that her fingers were so swollen that they would need to cut off her wedding rings. After everyone left the room, we sat together and she asked me, "What do we do with a broken ring and a whole ring?" For I had chosen to take off my ring that day, too. "'Both of these rings were old, more oval than round. Thin in some places and strong in other parts. We made a difficult decision. That was the hardest night in my entire life. It was the first time we had slept apart in forty-three years."
"The next morning I took the two rings to the jewelers and had them melted. Half of that locket is my ring' and the other half is hers. The clasp is made from the engagement ring that I gave her when I proposed to her, down by the pond at the back of the farm on a warm summer's evening. She told me it was about time and answered yes. "On the inside it says I love you Susan and on the other side it says I love you Joseph. We made this locket because we were afraid that one day we might not be able to say these words to each other."
He picked her up and held her gently in his arms. I knew that I was the channel, and they had the message. I slipped out the door and went back to feeding the feeders with more kindness in my heart.
After lunch and the paperwork, I walked back down to their room. He was rocking her in his arms and singing the last verse of 'Amazing Grace.' I waited while he laid her down, crossed her arms and closed her eyes.
He turned to me at the door and said, 'Thank you. She passed away just a little bit ago. Thank you very much.'
"I used to say I was 'just a nurse' or 'just a mom,' but I don't anymore. No one is just an anything. Each of us has gifts and talents. We need not limit ourselves by such small definitions. I know what I can do when I listen to my heart and live from there."