One day during my Hospice years, my schedule included a patient usually assigned to another nurse who was now on vacation. The notes said that she was fine; resting comfortably and that this would be a routine visit.
The Adult Family Home where she was spending her final days was quiet and clean. When I entered I sensed the dedication of the staff, who understood aging and suffering. They assured me that the patient continued to sleep deeply as she had for the past several days. Not opening her eyes or responding in any way. Not opening her lips for any kind of nourishment. Showing no restlessness or any sign of discomfort.
Indeed she did appear to be deeply asleep. In fact I pressed my stethoscope to her left chest to be sure she was still alive. Her heartbeat was slow but regular and clearly present. I went through my checklist: patient clean and comfortable, skin intact, turned every two hours, food and fluid offered. Comfort kit of medications available; staff knowledgeable. Vital signs at the borders, but normal.
Reluctant to leave this woman I did not know after so short a visit, I sat beside her bed, taking her hand. Understanding that hearing is often the last sense, I introduced myself and spoke softly about the beauty of the day, the kindness I sensed of those caring for her. Then I noticed a sheet of paper on her nightstand.
It was a poem by poet Mary Oliver. There was no indication who put it there. Perhaps the Social Worker or Chaplain since this woman had no family who visited regularly. There was nothing in her thin chart to indicate she enjoyed poetry. But I began to read.
I finished with a sigh, personally moved and gifted by the delicate words. When I glanced toward the bed, tears streamed from under the patient’s tightly closed eyes. She had heard. She had found comfort. She had gone for a moment, and forever, into the expression of beauty.