I sat by her bed and held her hand. Her name was Anna and her body was the shell she lived in. Paralyzed by a stroke, her eyes were the only part of her body that contained a spark of life. Now she was dying.
I worked as a Nurse’s Aide in a nursing home. In the twelve months I had worked there, no one had ever visited Anna.
My shock and dismay over the treatment of the patients who resided there had been almost overwhelming. What mattered was the money. It seemed no one saw these people as human beings.
There were the few who sat…day after day…in front of the nurse’s station. Strapped into adult high chairs, they drooled, babbled and banged on their tray…all day.
Vivian was a resident who had the air of southern aristocracy. As I changed the sheets on her bed, she remained aloof from my small conversation. It was very clear I was the “hired help”.
Then came the day she needed some repair on her bathroom door. The handyman, named Clarence, had black skin. When Clarence entered Vivian’s room and walked toward the chair where she was sitting, she stood as she reached for her cane and began to beat him on the head.
Someone else would have to fix that door.
Harry lived in a world of torment. As I carried out my duties in his room, he delivered a stream of vile words directed at me. I had never heard most of those words before. But with the hatred in his voice, I knew they weren’t nice ones.
Helen’s room was an oasis of calm. She always greeted me with a smile and sometimes an offer of a cookie. Her gratitude for a newly made bed washed over me. I felt appreciated and needed.
And so came the day when my shift was over. As I headed for the door to leave, I overheard the conversation at the nurse’s station about Anna. Plans were already being made for the new patient who would occupy that room. The new patient’s family had been called. It was only a matter of time.
Immediately I made a U-turn, catching the attention of the nursing supervisor.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“To be with Anna” was my simple reply.
“Oh, that’s not part of your job. You can go on home” she said brusquely.
“I don’t want her to die alone”, I said softly. “I will sit with her.”
“Just make sure you clock out first. We won’t pay you for staying” was her terse answer.
Anna heard me enter. Her eyes locked with mine. She knew.
I sat down and took her lifeless hand in mine. I leaned close to her face and said, “Anna, I know you can hear me. I just want you to know I will be here with you”.
A tear leaked out of her eye and ran toward her ear. I wiped it away.
“Anna, do you know Jesus? Blink twice if the answer is yes”.
Instantly she closed her eyes and opened them twice.
“Then soon you will be free of this body and be running and jumping down the streets of gold. Are you ready for that?”
Two blinks…and more tears down the cheeks. Once again I wiped them away gently. I had never done this before. A part of me wanted to leave the room and forget it was happening.
But I could not leave her alone.
I sang softly…and prayed and kept my eyes locked on hers. When they closed, I felt a catch in my breath. But the rise and fall of her chest told me…not yet.
It didn’t take long. She was ready. Anna gently slipped away.
I sat there in silence. I conjured up a mental image of Anna…whole again. I had been a witness to a wonderful passing. Selfishly I hoped I would never end up like Anna…an active mind trapped in a lifeless body. I prayed I would remember this moment of Anna’s release.
Still holding her hand, my reverie was interrupted by the strident voice of the nursing supervisor. “Why didn’t you tell us she died? We need to get this room stripped and disinfected. The new patient is arriving at 8:00.”
I was ushered from the room as the flurry of activity began. I wondered what they planned to do with Anna’s body. But I knew Anna no longer cared. She was free.
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