83: Heavenly Connections

83: Heavenly Connections

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Heavenly Connections

God not only sends special angels into our lives, but sometimes Heaven sends them back again if we forget to take notes the first time!

~Eileen Elias Freeman

My heart sank as my sister said, “You need to come home right away. Mom is dying.” My fifty-six-year-old mother lay severely ill in my hometown 230 miles away. How could that be?

Two months earlier, she’d helped with our wedding. She’d sewn the flower girl’s dress for my niece, arranged food for the reception, attended bridal showers and offered advice for my future as a wife.

The drive home seemed to take forever. My husband, Dennis, consoled me, offering gentle words and tissues as he drove our banged-up Chevy Malibu over Highway 2. We arrived at the small-town hospital and entered her room. I couldn’t grasp the situation. I knew a little bit about illness and caring for the infirm as I worked as an aide at a retirement home in Omaha. But none of that prepared me for seeing my mother, unconscious, with a large brown tube in her nose, IVs in her arms and neck, and the swishing sound of machines. I looked at the heart monitor, not knowing what the numbers and squiggly lines meant.

No one ran around yelling like on television shows. There were no shouts of “Clear!” Was she really dying? Wouldn’t there be more drama?

The thought of losing Mom crushed me. Dad had died of a heart attack three years earlier at age sixty. So young.

My dreams of my parents meeting their grandchildren and growing old together vanished as I watched Mom take her last breath.

Throughout my childhood, Mom told me I should be a nurse. She and Dad were both registered nurses. They met in New York City while going to a Bellevue nursing school prior to World War II. Seeking a new start after the war, Dad moved the family to Nebraska where he became a hospital administrator.

“You should be a nurse,” Mom badgered me throughout my childhood. “Why don’t you become a nurse? You would be so good at it.” I didn’t agree.

I never wanted to be a nurse. I remembered all the holidays that Mom had to work, the night shifts, the gruesome dinner conversations about picking gravel out of a motorcyclist’s brain or details of bloody surgical procedures. It didn’t sound like the career for me.

Doris Day movies convinced me that a career in advertising would be fun. I enjoyed writing and drawing, so I decided to major in journalism. I soon discovered that my childhood dream of becoming an advertising executive was a fantasy. I floundered, wondering what career to choose. Then my dad died, and my grades plummeted. Three years later, I got married, leaving college behind.

Now I was beginning the long, arduous journey through grief. I went back to work at the nursing home. Dennis said, “You can’t continue to work for minimum wage. You need a profession that will support you if anything happens to me.”

What profession? And how could we pay for education? The questions overwhelmed me.

While caring for a lady in the nursing home, I got to know her granddaughter, who was a frequent visitor.

Even she told me: “You should be a nurse.”

“You sound like my mother,” I said.

A few days later, the woman began the conversation again. She asked me where I was from. “Broken Bow,” I said.

“What do your parents do?”

“My parents are both dead,” I said. “My dad was a hospital administrator, and my mom was a nurse.”

The woman became more animated. “What were their names?”

I told her, and she started laughing. “I knew your parents,” she said. “Your dad and my husband were good friends.” Her husband was the administrator at one of the large hospitals in Omaha.

She continued to encourage me to become a nurse. Eventually, I confessed that we had no money for school, and my transcripts from the university weren’t good. She persisted and arranged for me to talk to her husband about enrolling in the nursing school connected with his hospital.

A few days later, I found myself inside the large hospital, walking down the long marbled halls to the administrator’s office. He greeted me from behind a large mahogany desk and invited me to sit in one of the plush chairs. He smiled as he told me about his friendship with my father. He recalled how Dad was president of the Nebraska Hospital Association in the 1950s and helped raise funds to build the hospital in which we sat. He said his wife described how I took care of her grandmother, and they were both convinced I should be a nurse.

“We’ll find a scholarship for you.” He made an appointment for me to see the director at the college of nursing.

Days later, I walked into the director’s office. Taken aback, I stopped short. Sitting behind the desk was a petite, graying woman about my mother’s age in a crisp white uniform. She wore the unique Bellevue School of Nursing upside-down “cupcake paper” nursing cap. I’d only seen that particular nursing cap on two other people—my mother and my aunt in Pennsylvania. The odds seemed incredible. The director of the Omaha nursing school was a graduate of the New York school my parents attended.

She agreed to allow me to enroll in the school, but sternly told me that I would have to prove myself and bring up my grades.

With only one car, Dennis drove me to school every day. Because of his work hours, I arrived an hour before classes started. I used the time to study in the student lounge. I noticed that our anatomy and physiology instructor would arrive early and write lengthy notes on the board. I decided to go into the classroom and get a head start on the notes.

One day, the instructor asked me where I was from. The conversation seemed very similar to those I had had with the nursing-home visitor and the director of the school.

It turned out that she knew my parents, too! She and her husband, a doctor, used to live in a small Nebraska town near my hometown. I thought it was very strange that I was meeting all these people who knew my parents. As a child, I didn’t think about my parents having friends outside of our small community.

I excelled in school and graduated, beginning my career as an NICU nurse. Looking back, I believe my mother guided the conversations that led me to becoming a nurse.

Mom continues to help me, and I believe, in the end, she will be there at my deathbed, saying, “I told you so!”

~Susan Grady Bristol

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