55: Buttercup

55: Buttercup

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses


Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.

~Gérard de Nerval

Val couldn’t help but be a favorite patient on the palliative care unit where I worked. She was the happiest, most positive person I’d ever known. We developed a special connection and joked with each other about everything.

When I told her that my son was getting married, she wanted to see pictures of my dress. I brought in a picture of the long electric-blue strapless gown I had chosen.

“Brenda,” she said, “that’s the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen. And you will look even more beautiful wearing it. You’ll have to bring in photos of the wedding and tell me all about it.”

“I promise,” I said, as I clasped her hand, hoping she would still be around to see them, because despite her cheery disposition, we both knew she was dying.

Over the next few weeks, Val’s health deteriorated. Instead of helping her get to the washroom so she could bathe herself, I was now washing her in bed. But rather than be upset, Val simply saw it as more time for us to visit and share. I told her about the new house my husband and I were moving into and I promised her more pictures.

Even on days Val wasn’t assigned to me, I always made a point of going to see her and giving her a hug. “Morning, Sunshine,” I’d say. “Just came to say hello.”

“Oh Brenda, that’s so nice of you. I know how busy all you nurses are.”

I grinned. “Val, you know I’d never miss a chance to see you. It brightens my day just being with you.”

Once she leaned toward me and whispered, “Don’t tell the others, but you’re one of my favorite nurses.”

I whispered back. “Don’t tell anyone, but you’re one of my favorite patients.” Warmth flooded my heart.

Some days later, while I was bathing her, we spoke on a more serious note.

“Now that I’ve gotten a bit better, I’m planning to go back to my retirement home.”

“Oh, Val,” I joked, “don’t tell me you’re getting tired of me already.”

She smiled. “No, but it’s time to go home for a while. I know I’ll be back here again and that I won’t be leaving the next time. At least not for the retirement home.”

For a moment I didn’t say anything. We both knew it was the truth.

Then I realized I did have one more service to offer her. “When you do come back here, you may not know me or be conscious, but I will know you and I promise to take extra special care of you.”

She nodded and took a deep breath, then touched my hand. “It makes me feel good knowing I have a friend in the hospital.”

Val did indeed get better and went back to her retirement home. Weeks later I visited her there. She’d lost all her hair and was now wearing a wig, but she was the same Val. We talked for a while, then she got tired and it was time for me to leave.

“Next time you come,” she said, “we’ll have a glass of wine in the bar. No sense living in a swanky place if you can’t have a drink or two with friends.”

Unfortunately, before we could have that drink, Val returned to our palliative care unit. My shift had ended, but just as I was about to leave I saw her lying on a stretcher without her wig. I went to her and held her hand.

A smile creased her face. “I remember your promise to take special care of me. I’m holding you to that promise.”

I squeezed her hand to show that I remembered.

Over the next few weeks Val’s health deteriorated, but she remained cheerful and our special connection held strong. We continued to chat about all sorts of things.

One day during her bath I asked her, “If you could be reincarnated as something, what would it be.”

She replied instantly. “A buttercup.”

“Not a rose?”

“Too showy,” she replied. “Definitely a buttercup.”

A few days later, Val fell unconscious and shortly thereafter died with her daughters beside her.

We’re not supposed to get too involved with our patients, but I felt saddened over the loss of Val. While it’s not remarkable for me to attend funerals if they are close, seldom do I travel to another city. But, this time I felt I had to drive those miles to honor my friend. When I arrived, I hugged her daughters and told them how much I’d miss her. They thanked me for caring for their mom, but I told them it had been a privilege.

On the return trip home, I pulled into the driveway of our new house. As I walked to the front door, I surveyed my newly acquired garden that was already growing well in May. I noted the purple irises blooming, and then something caught my eye. I looked closer and there amid the other plants was a splash of yellow.

A buttercup.

~Brenda Dickie

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