the nurse

the nurse | the merry gourmet

During the first few days of my two-week hospital service stint in early September, I ran into my father’s nurse, a brown-haired woman in her 50s with a kind face and a gentle manner.

I was in a patient pod (a large space with six glass-doored patient rooms around a central nursing station) in the second floor Intermediate Medical Care unit. The IMC is a patient ward reserved for very sick patients who aren’t quite sick enough to need care in the intensive care unit but who need more intensive monitoring than on a regular floor.

I was there to see a patient, an older man who had been just diagnosed with a devastating and advanced cancer. I had not met the man yet; this would be the first time. I was there to tell him about his cancer. I was there to tell him exactly how bad his diagnosis was, and how short he was likely to live.

I had not been in the IMC since the end of February, when my father was a patient in that very pod, and when my family was on the receiving end of the bad news. I was fully aware of this fact, and I’d been trying to suppress the emotions that kept trying to surface ever since those automatic double doors to the IMC swung open to allow me entrance.

My father’s nurse stepped out of a patient’s room. We saw each other in that same moment, and I saw recognition on her face. She smiled, and then her eyebrows furrowed and her smile faltered as she recalled why she knew me.

She had been my father’s nurse on the morning I recognized that he had had a stroke and called it to her attention. She was there when the team of neurologists came to sugar coat his prognosis, only answering the hard questions after I insisted. She was there when the nurse from Hospice came to meet with us. She was there when he was wheeled out of the unit on a spindly stretcher, arms strapped in under a thin white sheet, discharged to the Hospice inpatient center.

“How are you?” she asked, moving closer to give me a hug. She smelled clean, of shampoo. “How is your mom?”

“Oh, I’m good. We’re fine,” I said, my heart in my throat. My eyes were suddenly wet as I was overwhelmed with emotions and memories.

My father in that hospital bed, gesturing to me with his right hand – the only one that worked – but unable to speak.

My mother and I sitting quietly in my father’s darkened room, watching the beeping monitor above his bed, hoping it would reveal something, anything, that could give us comfort.

The cardinal that fluttered at his window, seemingly trying to get in, as though it needed to be with us. As though it needed to tell me something.

We embraced for a long minute. She could sense that I needed it. When I pulled back, I wiped the tears from my eyes with the back of my hand.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m really okay. I’ll be fine.” She looked doubtful.

I took a moment to compose myself, took some deep breaths and tried to remember why I was there. The nurse moved away, resuming work at the desk in the center of the room. I could tell that she wasn’t sure if she should say more or give me space.

I would see her again, several times, over the course of those first two weeks in September. That first time was the hardest, as I should have expected it to be. It was another in a series of firsts, after all – like that first Father’s Day without him – and I had been caught off guard. Later, his nurse and I would be able to smile at each other, to say hello without my sadness overshadowing the moment. It would become easier to be there, in that space where my father became lost to me forever.

“I’m good,” I said again, mostly to myself. I shook my head, trying to shake off those intruding memories that had come at the wrong time.

I tugged the sleeves and hem of my white coat, though it did not need straightening. I smoothed my hair, inhaled, and then exhaled. I squeezed a dollop of hand sanitizer gel into my hands and rubbed them together vigorously, as if trying to rid myself of more than just potential germs. Then I entered my patient’s room, a room opposite from the room that had been my father’s.

The lights were dim and the monitor above his bed spoke its own language of digital beeps. The man looked up at me from his bed with curiosity and hope. Inside, I cringed.

“Hello,” I said. “I’m Dr. Markham.”

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46 Responses to “losing my father”

  1. 1
    Christina — June 19, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

    The tears are welling up in my eyes. What a painful post this must have been and a really powerful story to share to encourage continued dignified care for elderly people. They are not done yet and we need to support them are care for them with the dignity they deserve.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. 2
    Gail — June 19, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

    I don’t know how you wrote this, but you did it beautifully.
    Sending you love, MJ.


  3. 3
    Heather Christo — June 19, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

    I’m so sorry. I have been through alzheimers with a grandmother and an aunt. It is so hard and takes a lot of strength. I am thinking of you. *hugs*

  4. 4
    Mardi — June 19, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

    No words. Just hugs for you and your dad. Xo

  5. 5

    Oh, MJ. There really aren’t words. My grandpa had dementia and it was so hard to see happen to someone so vibrant. I am feeling it for you. You wrote this so beautifully.

  6. 6
    Terri/Love and Confections — June 19, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

    I can definitely understand. My great-grandmother had Alzheimers and it was very difficult for the whole family. Hugs and prayers!

  7. 7
    Family Foodie — June 19, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

    You are just amazing. I can only imagine how hard this must be for you. You are an amazing daughter and a wonderful role model to your children. Your love shines through in this post. Sending you hugs.

  8. 8

    This post brought tears to my eyes, MJ… It is so beautifully written and so poignant. My heart breaks for you. Sending lots of love and hugs.

  9. 9

    MJ… how hard this must be for you. I’m sure getting your thoughts down here has been a way for you to deal with all of this.

  10. 10

    I could barely read the screen because of the tears in my eyes. I can’t imagine how hard this was to write, but it’s beautiful and heartbreaking. Your father is lucky to have you.

  11. 11
    Kiran @ — June 19, 2013 @ 11:56 pm

    My eyes welled up as I read this post. The bond you have with your Dad is one to be very proud of. Hugs.

  12. 12
    Denise @ Creative Kitchen — June 20, 2013 @ 12:50 am

    Tears streaming…..I can relate….unfortunately. My dad….60 years young, has early onset dementia and is in assisted living. It is so sad!! I never thought this would happen to us. My parents have always been the young ones, the healthy ones. I’m sad for you MJ….I’m sad for me…I’m sad for missed opportunities for my children over the next 20 years. It stinks 🙁


  13. 13
    Liren — June 20, 2013 @ 12:54 am

    I am breathing deep calming breaths and can only imagine how you must calm yourself as your struggle with losing your dad in such a way. I admire your strength and am sure he does, too 🙂 Hugs.

  14. 14
    Jayne — June 20, 2013 @ 1:52 am

    Oh my gosh, so sad. I’m so sorry you are going through this.

  15. 15
    Kathryn — June 20, 2013 @ 5:15 am

    Oh MJ, I remember these conversations with my grandmother. It’s so hard watching someone fade away before your eyes. Sending you much love xx

  16. 16
    Janis — June 20, 2013 @ 6:29 am

    “I hate that”. What more is there to say? Thanks for sharing that sweetie. I know how hard it is. Just keep holding his hand.

  17. 17
    Macaroni Mama — June 20, 2013 @ 7:28 am

    The “I’m not done yet” is the saddest part to me.

  18. 18

    In tears now. My heart goes out to you MJ. It’s so difficult watching those we love go through this. When my sweet Granny’s memory was failing years ago, my sister made her a memory book that we’d sit and go through with her to point out who was who. Sending hugs your way my friend.

  19. 19
    Katrina — June 20, 2013 @ 8:18 am

    So heart wrenching and so tenderly written. One of the last times I saw my father in the nursing home he shifted easily from some other world to the present, gently enough so that I could realize ” Oh – he’s in Gramercy Park with his sister Allie”, to answering his fatherly concern: “Yes, Daddy, I’m doing just fine” Much love to you as you navigate this new path. xxxxxoooo

  20. 20

    This post is absolutely beautiful. I felt as though I was sitting beside you and your father.

  21. 21
    Theresa — June 20, 2013 @ 10:09 am

    My heart is breaking for you. This is such a hard thing to go through. There are no words. Just wish I could give you a hug.

  22. 22
    cherie — June 20, 2013 @ 11:00 am

    And I hate it too. Writing through tears – it’s a blessing that you can visit – as hard as it is. But I am sure it is incredibly hard

    Prayers for you and yours

  23. 23
    Denise — June 20, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    Beautiful post. I am not sure how you put pen to paper to write it, both loving and difficult. Wish I was near by to give you a little squeeze.

  24. 24
    Martina — June 20, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    MJ – I was so touched by your story about your father. My father has this terrible disease too though not to your father’s degree–yet. The saddest thing, as you know, is that he can’t do or enjoy the things he used to love. I’m so fearful of his future. Thank you for sharing.

  25. 25
    Katie — June 20, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    OH Mj… beautiful way to remember this visit with your dad. You are one strong woman. Sending hugs and prayers to you.

  26. 26
    Sabrina Modelle — June 20, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

    Merry Jennifer,
    This is such a beautiful post. Having lost my dad when he was fairly young, I often wonder what he would have been like today as a 70 year-old man. Life and loss are so intertwined, and these posts about your dad so beautifully illustrate that. I’m sorry for your suffering and your dad’s suffering but so grateful for your grace.
    Lots of love,

  27. 27
    Adrienne — June 20, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    Such a moving post. Sending love your way. Thanks for sharing it.

  28. 28
    Kare @ Kitchen Treaty — June 20, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

    The leopard was a good choice. 🙂 What an unbelievably sweet and heart-wrenching story. Hugs to you and your dad.

  29. 29
    Kim in RI — June 20, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

    Beyond words – thank you so much for sharing this.

  30. 30
    Michelle — June 20, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

    My mother is 62 and has Alzheimer’s Dementia. There is no word to adequately describe the pain we as adult children feel seeing our parents so distressed. The only pain worse is their own, in those moments when they are able to grasp the reality of their fate. My mother’s brain is slowly dying, and with it her independence, dignity and cherished memories. I hate this blasted beast they call dementia. It’s cruel and indiscriminent and utterly unstoppable. For now. PRAYING for a cure…and the strength to be strong enough for my Mom, my Dad and myself in the meantime <3

  31. 31
    Jenny Hartin — June 20, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

    Just sending love.

  32. 32
    Laura — June 21, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    My heart breaks for you and your family! I’ll keep your family in my prayers. Stay strong! And thanks for sharing your heart with us.

  33. 33
    Amy @ The Nifty Foodie — June 21, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

    This post has me in tears. 🙁

    Your family is in my prayers right now. I can’t imagine how hard this is.

  34. 34
    Monica — June 21, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

    Wow, this is an exquisitely well-composed story. I felt like I was right there with you as you visited your father for the last time…My grandfather is also suffering a similar fate with Alzheimer’s, so I can relate to how hard it must be. Thank you for sharing your story, and I will keep you in my thoughts & prayers.

  35. 35
    Sarah — June 23, 2013 @ 1:45 am

    I hate that, too. My Mom has been spiraling down into dementia for the last 7 years, and she’s only 66. For her, it’s all tangled up with Parkinson’s Disease which her father had, as does her older brother. I don’t know you, but I know that awful helplessness and pain of being a bystander forced to watch as a loved one crumbles. And I want to thank you for sharing such a personal, powerful story that has brought me to tears. This is beautifully written.
    And to think I came here to look at your ricotta recipe! (by the way, I’m glad you’re safe!)

  36. 36
    Eileen — June 23, 2013 @ 10:14 am

    I was here for your chess pie recipe and then I found your latest post. I’m sorry that life has dealt you this hand. It is so difficult and sad watching someone that you love become someone you never knew. When my mom got cancer I watched a strong woman who always took care of our family become a person that needed to be taken care of. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  37. 37
    Paula — June 24, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

    God has not only blessed you with a wonderful father but with the gift to be able to write about him as eloquently as you do. Though you never once wrote the words love, cherish, respect, miss, etc., in this post, all of it and so much more is conveyed within every paragraph.

    You know, call me crazy but I’m just wondering if your father thinking he was in an accident so close after your encounter with the lightening was somehow connected. Perhaps he was just having a sixth sense intuition about you and that Friday.

  38. 38

    sending you lots of hugs

  39. 39
    Di — June 26, 2013 @ 9:41 am

    So sweetly said, so sweetly sad, so far from what you ever dreamed your reality would be. Turning the corners of life isn’t easy as so many of us know and/or come to realize. Thoughts and prayers to your Dad and you and your family.

  40. 40
    Lyn — June 28, 2013 @ 3:09 am

    I had to stop reading this a couple of times, crying too hard to see the screen. The love you both share shines bright behind every word you typed. My father-in-law is in the early stages, and knows it, and feels it deeply. As do we all, don’t we, who love them? My prayers for you, your Dad, and your family, and my thanks for this piece. Hugs.

  41. 41
    Merry-Jennifer — June 28, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    Thank you ALL so very much for your sweet comments and the outpouring of support. xo

  42. 42
    GuRLiee — June 28, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

    I miss my Mom, reading your post is heart wrenching, I have just spent 2 weeks with my Mom who is in about stage 3 Alzeihmer’s taking over the care to give my stepfather a break and let him go fishing. I think it’s just about time to find a nursing home for her and my heart is breaking thinking about it. I look at her and see the vibrant, stubborn, humorous, intelligent woman she used to be and I miss her so much. I want to give words of comfort to you but at this time I just don’t believe there are any. It’s painful and I guess the only thing we can do is remember the best of what our parents were and the wisdom and strength they tried to instill in us, but I still miss my Mom and I can imagine you miss your Dad.

  43. 43
    Kaz — June 28, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing your time shared with your dad…how lovely he has you to support him….there sounds like true trust between you both…..
    May I suggest you tuen off the tv and buy him some talking books form his fav authors….

  44. 44
    Kim — June 30, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    Oh how I well I know this painful place.
    My mother had vascular dementia. Watching her decline from a vibrant, intelligent woman to her death at just 75 was the most wrenching thing I have ever experienced.
    My heart goes out to you.

  45. 45
    Amy Tracy — June 30, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

    Sad but also a beautiful story about a daughter-father relationship. I’d give anything to have a few more words with my dad. Thank you for sharing.

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