48: I’m Going Home

48: I’m Going Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

I’m Going Home

Duty is ours, results are God’s.

~John Quincy Adams

I was a new nurse and for a week had been caring for an eighty-year-old highly decorated World War II hero who had flown many daring missions. But now he was confused, disoriented to time and place. He often spoke of his urgent need to get to his next mission, or he’d wake suddenly, terrified he’d be late for bugle call. I soothed him and he’d calm down for a while. His health was failing rapidly and he was too weak to walk, so we lifted him into a chair twice daily, which seemed to make him happy.

His wife of sixty years brought pictures of him in his uniform. I could, with a little imagination, see the remains of a dashing young man in his old ravaged body. She wanted us to see all he was and had been. She was also elderly and in poor health, and it was with great difficulty that she came to visit him every day. She kissed him on arrival each morning, and his eyes lit up. She held his hand or stroked his brow as he drifted in and out of sleep, comforted by her presence.

One day he attempted to get out of bed by himself, saying, “It is finally time for me to go!”

I rushed to his side to keep him from falling.” You don’t have to go right now. Why don’t you rest a while first?”

He calmed briefly, then insisted, “I need to go right away, it’s time!”

I was amazed at the change in him. He seemed stronger, and his vital signs were more stable than they had been since his hospitalization.

His wife called to let him know she would visit a little later than usual. He told her, with great urgency, “I really need to go! You have to hurry and get here so I can leave!”

Remembering that distraction is a good tool in dealing with dementia, I put him in a wheelchair and placed him by the nurse’s station where he smiled and nodded to everyone who passed.

An hour later he called down the hall to me: “Brenda.” I was surprised and pleased that he recognized me. I took his hands in mine.

“I don’t have much time left,” he said. “I need to go.”

“Do you want to go back to bed?”

He smiled but shook his head. “No,” he said patiently. “I just need to go home.”

As a dutiful new nurse, I explained, “I ordered you a great lunch, and your wife will be here soon to feed you. How about waiting until after lunch to go?”

He nodded reluctantly, but agreed. Just then his wife arrived. She was overjoyed to see him out of his room. He laughed when he saw her, and called to her. His lunch tray was waiting, so we took him back to his room. He shook my hand, then pulled me to him and hugged me. “Thank you for taking such good care of me, Brenda.”

I was speechless, overcome with tears and emotion. I hugged him back. “It’s my privilege, Mr. Smith, my honor.”

After lunch, I returned to his room. His wife stood beside his bed, an odd look on her face. “He kept telling me all morning he needed to leave, that it was his time to go. He was so excited.”

“He told me the same thing,” I said, looking fondly at him as he slept.

“Oh, Brenda,” she said in a gentle voice. “I think he’s gone.”

I looked at her in disbelief, then back at him. I placed my fingers on his radial pulse and my stethoscope over his heart. My eyes blurred with tears. It was true.

“But, I don’t understand! He was doing so well!” I blurted.

“He was trying to tell us that he was ready to die, but we didn’t realize it.”

I put my arms around her, and we both began to cry.

She said, “I will never forget what you did for us.”

When I called the doctor, I conveyed the morning’s events. “But I don’t understand the sudden change.”

The wise old physician told me something I have never forgotten. “Sometimes God, in His infinite wisdom, allows a dying person a really good day just before he dies. And sometimes God, in His infinite love, allows that patient’s family the comfort of seeing their loved one experience that good day. And sometimes God, in His infinite grace, allows us to be a part of it.”

~Brenda Stiverson

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