Tonight the room is filled with your friends and colleagues, relatives and husband. Words seemed so trite.
We looked at pictures and saw a young girl at her birthdays with glorious eyes that beamed as a piece of cake clutched tightly squirts icing through her tender fingers. Or others of a young girl wrapped in her father’s arms with a can of mosquito spray – was it her first campout? Or sitting with those jeans on a fence outside a barn, or smiling with a graduation cap beside a school, a mother by her side. More birthdays. Graduations. A wedding album. A kiss. Happy times with a smile - always a smile – radiant, stunning. “She was beautiful inside and out,” I kept hearing.
Yes, you were.
I learned tonight that the diagnosis came in 1996. You were only 28. Your nursing colleagues were not sure what to say. But there in the scrapbook of pictures from earlier days was a picture of a pair of gauze panties from the OB ward stretched between IV poles for a game of volleyball on the ward during the late shift anyway. Was that your idea?
Two years later: more bad news – your spine. Why? No matter, it seemed. You became an Advanced Practice Nurse anyway. It was all you wanted to do. Help others, stay productive, touch people.
I met you in 2001, completely unaware. That’s how you were. Gracious, compassionate, professional, caring. I know why now. I was so naïve. Your perspective was crystal clear and level-headed; mine, rose-colored. It was not until you lost your hair that I learned of your struggle. But your smile persisted; you came to work every chance you could, made rounds, returned phone calls, kept going until you just got too tired. Your husband told me tonight that that was the part that hurt you the most – when you couldn’t work anymore – damn.
Beneath the flowers, there you were tonight, kind of. I was glad I could say goodbye. It was a lovely dress, but the torn jeans pocket laid on your dress with a note to “Teresa” said it all. Damn, you were special!
So carry on, dear friend. Make sure those wards up there are humming. Keep 'em laughing and smiling, just as you did down here. And as we say in the Navy:
Fair winds, following seas, and may the peace of the Lord always be with you.