I don't know why death seems more painful during the holiday season, but anyone who has lost a loved one right before or after a holiday knows what I mean. But can a blessing be hiding in the pain? I wonder.
I want to share with you the blessing one of our favorite patients gave us on Christmas day. For some, the pain of his death may not be seen as a blessing, but for us who knew him it could be called no other.
I will call him Manny ( I have changed his name to protect his privacy). Manny was born with sick lungs and has been in and out of the hospital for his 10 or so years in critical condition and on a ventilator for much of his admissions. He was skinny but oh so smart, and he loved his mom with a passion you could feel just by the look in his eyes. When he couldn't talk because of the breathing machine, he would write notes and most of what he had to say were questions about his mom and how she was doing.
He has been in our unit for several weeks and on the breathing machine all of that time but he could still communicate with notes, mouthing words around the breathing tube, or by nodding his head. Manny wanted to give his mom a Christmas present. He had something special in mind but it took our saint of a social worker to figure it out. She purchased a cross necklace for Manny to give his mom this Christmas. On Monday she brought it in to show him and his approval was appreciated by the staff by the sparkle in his eye. You could feel his excitement.
Tuesday Manny was improving enough to get the breathing tube out and to use a high pressure oxygen mask instead. On Wednesday, Christmas Eve, he was getting tired but was still so excited to give his mom the Christmas gift.
Manny and his mom shared a wonderful Christmas Eve opening first his gifts from her and finally her gift from him. We were all thrilled that he was breathing okay and we hoped this would be a turn for the better and a happy New Year for this family.
In the early morning hours of Christmas day, Manny got worse. His breathing was labored and it was a struggle for him to stay awake. Manny made the brave decision to refuse to have the breathing tube put back in reassuring both his mom and the staff that this was God's plan. He passed away mid- morning on Christmas day with his mom proudly wearing his gift and holding his hand.
This special young man blessed us all with his grace, his bravery, and his smile. He helped us to let go and to be okay with it on the most special day of the year.
The nurses who cared for Manny on Christmas morning were blessed. The rest of us who have had the privileged of caring for him in the past are saddened, yet we all feel blessed as well. And his mom, in the midst of her sadness, left our unit knowing that we will remember Manny every Christmas from now on.... we will remember the brave young man with the big smile who thought more of others than himself. He will be missed.
Blessings for a happy 2009 even in the midst of sadness.