82: Dad’s “Girls”

82: Dad’s “Girls”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Dad’s “Girls”

Work is love made visible.

~Kahlil Gibran

I had a pressing dilemma. My widowed father was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, and it was left to me to care for him. My siblings had careers; my career was as a childcare provider in my home.

I had eight children, from newborn to five years, in my care from about 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. every weekday. I had to believe there was a way for me to care for them and care for Dad too.

Three of my childcare parents called my father “Grandad,” as I had provided care for them when they were little children. They were adamant that I take my dad into my home and care for him. They wanted their children to be able to love him, and to experience the passing of an older person before it got “too close to home.”

Three of my childcare moms were nurses. By Divine coincidence, two were geriatric nurses, the third one an oncology nurse. Just what I needed.

While my dad was still in the hospital, I had a conference with my childcare parents. Their overwhelming support for Dad and me was amazing. I moved him into our home and some of his greatest pleasure during his last days was watching and interacting with the little children who adored him. Seeing their youth, innocence, and vibrancy helped him deal with his pain.

While all of the parents were outstanding during this time, “my” nurses were truly angels in white in their care and nurturing of Dad… and my family and me.

When I couldn’t make him use his oxygen, one of them came after work and knelt down so he could see her face. She sweet talked him into trying the oxygen and encouraged him with gentleness. He grew to love her. “She understands why I have to use this stuff more than the rest of you put together!” She came into my home every evening, exhausted from her twelve-hour shifts. Yet she greeted her children, then visited with my dad, checking his vitals, going over the handwritten medical charts I kept for him, and telling him funny stories as she hovered over him.

Another parent, the oncology nurse, the one with the emotionally draining career, reinforced with me how to become comfortable with the valve drain procedure. We had a hospice nurse for Dad, which I appreciated so very much, but this nurse helped me a couple of times so he didn’t have to leave the house in the middle of a cold Colorado winter. She kept me abreast of his symptoms and the progression of his disease. It was so edifying to be able to understand the changes happening to him and the emotions she knew he was dealing with. It was such a comfort to know she would be there every day.

The third nurse, who was the most personally caring person I’d ever met, spent time nurturing me and my family and our holistic health. She brought dinner several times and even ordered pizza when she was too exhausted to prepare a meal for us. She cautioned me, my husband, and our fifteen-year-old son to take care of ourselves, to deal with the situation as it progressed, to talk openly about what was happening, to share with her and with one another the trauma we were all going through.

My daycare children, my other childcare parents, and my entire family benefitted greatly from the ministry of these three nurses. My brothers and sister living far away were comforted knowing I had daily professional help with Dad. The nurses watched for any indication of stress the little children might be experiencing. They talked with my son, asking him if he had questions or concerns, challenging him to be open and honest about his feelings. They answered our questions and explained Dad’s progression towards death. They matter-of-factly shared stories with Dad about their dealings with terminal patients.

For two months, each one of them gave totally of themselves, after an exhausting workday, knowing they had small children to care for, meals to prepare, laundry to do, a house to clean, and a husband to share with after they left my home. Not one of them ever complained. Not one of them ever rushed through picking up her children. Not one of them ever expressed impatience.

They gave me a chance to breathe, sometimes for the first time that day. Even in his pain, Dad looked forward to their arrival each day. For him it was a chance to see “his girls” as he called them, freely sharing how he felt emotionally as well as physically.

One nurse picked her child up late one evening because she’d had a death on her unit. She cried softly in my arms about losing one of her patients.

We lost Dad ten minutes after she left.

I would not have been able to care for him and the children without the love and ministry of “Dad’s girls,” his angels in white. To quote Dad, “There are special places in heaven for ‘girls’ like mine.”

~Bette Haywood Matero

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