Auld Lang Syne

I am not a big fan of New Year’s Eve… not since I lost my grandmother on this day in 1987. We were very close, and I think of her often during this time every year. My “Nanny” loved to celebrate New Year’s Eve; she believed in all of the traditions and old superstitions to start the new year the “right” way, from eating pickled herring for luck, to banging pots & pans outside with neighbors at the stroke of midnight.

This New Year’s Eve is the last day of a really difficult year, one which will never be forgotten. It has been a year of loss and pain, but also one of gratitude for the time that we had with my father, and with friends and family. So many amazing people were there for us during our time of grief, and I don’t think that I will ever be able to repay them…try as I may. For them, I am thankful.

But the hits keep coming… just yesterday I received news about the loss of a close friend of over 30 years, Ann Marie. Her passing was sudden and unpredictable; shocking, really.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about the “pros & cons” of cancer… some disagreed with me because they didn’t understand that there was anything “good” about such a terrible disease. But I believe it to be true, especially now:

The gift of cancer is that it gives us time to prepare, to let the inevitable sink in. It allows us the opportunity to go down fighting; to try everything that is available, from research studies, to proven protocols. Mostly, it gives us the gift of hope. And when we can see that the hope is fading, and our arsenal of medications are no longer working, it gives us the gift of saying a proper good-bye; saying what needs to be said before it’s too late. The closure that it can bring is the only thing that makes it bearable. Traumatic, sudden accidents or events, such as a heart attack, 9/11, or a car accident, do not give you closure; death is unexpected. No one can possibly be prepared. There are no “good-byes” or “I love you”, or “I’m sorry”…. there are regrets. And to me, that is even worse than a prolonged battle with cancer.

We were great college friends; exhausted nursing students suffering through our exams and clinicals, but still finding time to have fun, dance, and laugh. I would have never gotten through our Psych rotation without her! She was intrigued by it all! She had such a special way about her and she could literally talk to anyone, and be genuinely interested and engaged; I envied that about her. She had a remarkable memory too…she remembered the craziest things about our adventures, most of which I had forgotten. She would randomly post an old photo of us on Facebook just because. Those memories were a surprise gift to remind us of the “good old days” and always brought a chuckle, if not a flash of regret for my fashion choices or tall hair (it was the 80’s, afterall). Below is our college graduation picture… Lisa, Ann Marie, and me. All three of us pursued by the U.S. Navy to join as nurses after college graduation…we were tempted by visions of traveling the world and handome men in uniform, but ultimately we all chose to stay put in NJ… great friends with amazing life-long, cherished memories!

Ann Marie Lisa and me college grad

We even worked in the same hospitals, but I stayed in the world of Pediatrics, while she ventured into Nursing Research. We talked only a few weeks ago… she was checking-in on me to see how Shea and I were coping with the loss of my Dad around the holidays. We only chatted for a short time, but even with both of our busy lives, she made the time to let me know that she was thinking about me. That was Ann Marie… she was a very special person; a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a nurse, and a great friend to many.

She read every one of my blog posts and always left a kind word of support and encouragement to let me know how much she appreciated my writing. This one is for you… this is my way of saying good-bye. I hope you like it Am. You will never be forgotten my friend. Rest peacefully.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind; should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne” (Burns, 1788). 

Reference

Burns, R. (1788). Auld Lang Syne. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auld_Lang_Syne

Blue Christmas

sad christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for those who have a light heart and jolly spirit… for others, it seems like work to wear a smile and “go through the motions” that most people expect during the holidays. This year everything feels different. It feels empty to me. I lost my Dad three months and 21 days ago and I have missed him every single day since. My Dad REALLY loved Christmas. Each year he tried to out-do the previous year. He would always leave a voice mail message on my daughter’s cell phone (even at the age of 24!) saying “Ho Ho Ho! Have you been a good girl this year Shea bird? Santa Claus is watching!”… and always with the warning that “if you’re not good, you’ll get coal in your stocking!” Shea still has last Christmas’ message from my Dad, her Pop-Pop, saved on her phone. It makes us laugh and cry at the same time.

I truly believe that my father knew that last year would be his last Christmas. He asked each one of us to think about something special that we wanted. Instinctually I knew that he was “preparing” and wanted his last gift to be memorable and to always serve as a visible reminder how much he loved us, and was always with us, even when he could no longer be. I chose a pair of earrings which I have worn every day since he gave them to me last Christmas Eve. I will treasure them always; they are a reminder of a Christmas past that will never, ever be the same.

As for this Christmas…I just want it to be over. It hurts too much. Thanksgiving was difficult…but Christmas is much harder. I recently found a Christmas ornament that symbolizes the loss of a loved one and says that this year “they will be spending Christmas with Jesus”. Did it help? No. It just made me cry.

I am receiving beautiful Christmas cards in the mail and I am struggling reading them all. I can’t seem to sit down and write out my own greeting cards. I am still grieving. I hope everyone understands.

This year, I am working on Christmas Day. It is ok though. The distraction will be good and I will not be able to withdraw into my own thoughts or sadness. It is a gift to be able to serve others and have a purpose. I will be spending the day with amazing people who selflessly work in a profession that no matter how much you give of yourself, you always receive more in return.

I know that I am not alone in my sadness this year. My friend Susan shared this song with me today and it expresses everything that I am feeling… everything that I was trying to say in my blog, but stumbled along the way with broken thoughts and memories. Susan knows the pain because she just lost her father yesterday… another friend just lost his beloved service dog last week… The thing about grief is that it is so overwhelmingly painful by itself, but going through it during a time that is supposed to be joyous and hopeful makes the sadness feel even more profound and lonely.

Merry Christmas in Heaven Dad. I miss you.

Saying Good-bye

I have been a nurse for many years, and in that time I have made amazing friends and memories. You tend to form close bonds with those that share common experiences… good or bad. We remember our favorite and least favorite nurses to work with, the best and worst docs, and the patients who remind us why we continue to do what we do. We mostly remember the best and worst shifts, and share stories that make us laugh, cry, or just shake our head in disbelief that that just happened. But eventually many of us move on, and decide to leave jobs that are no longer fulfilling, or the organizational leadership changes into something that you can’t support, or you decide to be brave and try something else…or a combination of the above… and we are faced with saying good-bye.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves“- Viktor E. Frankl

Saying good-bye is hard. I’m terrible at it. It is so final, and the thought of losing one more person in my life that has become important to me, especially after losing my father recently, makes it even harder. Sure, we say we will stay in touch, and see each other soon, and stay connected on social media… but it’s just not the same. It is a loss, and loss is painful.

I have made lifelong friends in all of my jobs… they are the best of the best… but yesterday I had to say good-bye to some amazing people that I have grown to love in only 3 short years. I was leaving for all the right reasons, and I was prepared to say good-bye; I had been gradually talking about my need to leave my job for a few weeks; saying it out loud to reinforce to myself that it was for the best… but that last day was the worst. I cried. A lot. It was embarrassing. No one died, and yet today, I am in mourning. I don’t feel sad about leaving the place, or the job itself (it was a very stressful environment and a helluva commute to be honest); I am sad about leaving the amazing people that I worked with and got to know on a deeply personal level. They are some of the hardest working people I know. It is not easy to work in a huge Children’s Hospital in NYC. It’s a tough place that is indisputable proof of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory; only those who are able to adapt to an environment, and struggle for existence, can survive and succeed. If only I could transport these amazing people to my new job, close to home, I would do so in an instant. But it’s not possible, and it’s not about me.

I will always have this piece of my heart that smiles whenever I think about you.

GWB

Last Time for Everything

When I heard the song “Last Time for Everything” by Brad Paisley on the radio, it brought me to tears because I clearly remember the last time that I spoke to my Dad on the morning that he passed away; I told him that I loved him, and he responded as he always did, “I love you more”. At the time, I had a strong feeling that it was the “last time” because he was so ill, but just two days before, when he was having a good day, we sat in the living room together and talked about the usual “stuff” and ate dinner together…I had no idea that it would be the “last time” we did those simple, everyday things. “Things” that later end up becoming cherished memories. The regret is that you wish you said more, stayed longer, and listened closer. The moment when I remember that I can’t pick up the phone to call my Dad to share some news, or talk to him about my day, ask his advice, or laugh about something funny… makes me miss him terribly. Those “last times” become exponentially important when they are no longer a possibility. That’s when it all becomes very sad…and very final.

last time


Nurses are acutely aware of how, in the blink of an eye, a life can be taken, often without any warning. Terrible, tragic things happen all the time… being involved in a car accident on the way to work, enjoying an evening out at a Jason Aldean concert, dancing in a nightclub, even just walking around town… the world can be an unpredictable, unsafe place. Our country is experiencing trying times, and anyone who watches the evening news knows that no one is safe from the potential of harm. Life is cut short for those who are lost, but it is the survivors who have to learn to cope with a new reality and resulting pain. While it is difficult to overcome, it is also a sad fact of life. “No one gets out alive” has been quoted often. The meaning is that we all (eventually) die, and the advice shared is to “not sweat the small stuff”, or not to take things too seriously… which is really hard to do. There are those who are lucky (or maybe more enlightened people of faith?), who are able to not waste time or energy on the draining, exhausting act of worrying; I’m sure they are (much) less burdened with stress, negativity, and insomnia!

Nurses, in particular, are faced with the difficult task of providing comfort to those who have lost someone. They become the survivors…the obituary reads “he is survived by his wife of 55 years, his children, and grandchildren”. Nurses are at the front lines; they know the words to comfort and console. And sometimes there are just no words to be said, and a hug or a kind gesture are the only thing we are able to give to those whose lives are forever changed. What words can ease the pain of a parent who loses a child? There are none that exist. It is unspeakable; unimaginable. Nurses stay strong in times of pain and grief because they must; it is a part of the job. Our patients and families look to us for support and guidance to help them through the worst day of their lives.

If only there was a way of “knowing”. I think that there should be a text message notification from God giving us a heads-up to pay close attention and take it all in, because that’s all we will have left… memories. White Light Alert:This will be your last day with your father; make it meaningful“. Most times we aren’t aware of the timing and significance of a moment that could be/is “the last time” for something….last time speaking to your loved one, last photo, last Christmas, last birthday, last time saying “I love you”… fill in the blank. There are so many “firsts” and “lasts” that we rarely recognize it until it’s too late. There are many “things” that Nursing has given me, but the most profound has been the gift of perspective. Whenever I have had a rough day, or feeling bad about something that hasn’t worked out the way that I wanted, I walk into my job on the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology/ Bone Marrow Transplant unit and I am suddenly reminded that my life really isn’t that bad afterall… my child (who is now an adult) is happy and healthy, I am physically and mentally able to care for those in need, I get to leave the hospital at the end of my shift, and I have a great job that constantly challenges and inspires me to come back for more the next day.

Reference

Paisley, B. (2017). “Last Time for Everything”. Retrieved from Youtube.com

This article was published and featured on Allnurses.com:

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