47: A Time for Tenderness

47: A Time for Tenderness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

A Time for Tenderness

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

~Kahlil Gibran

I met her for the first time under the worst of circumstances. It would have been easy to immediately dislike or ignore her. She was a stranger in a place where I hated to be, doing things I didn’t want to see. Instead I immediately respected her for her sincere acts of compassion directed toward one of my dearest friends.

The young nurse spoke tenderly, telling Tammy everything she was about to do while she methodically checked tubes and wires and assessed monitors of red, green and yellow zig-zagging lines above the bed. She overheard me ask if Tammy could hear or understand us. She sweetly informed us that she always treated every patient as if they could.

“Hearing is one of the last things to go,” she said, mindful of our sorrow. “That’s why I never stop talking.”

I caught a glimpse of her nametag: Bridget. I thought her name was as lovely as she. I blessed her for being so kind to my friend, then left the room to let the reality of Tammy’s condition sink in while in the tearful company of her family and friends.

A long day learning the facts and details painted a grim picture. Brain damage from a horrible aneurism was permanent and irreversible. I realized this was my last chance to tell her goodbye.

I sat by her bed, remembering Bridget’s example, speaking out loud to my silent friend. I recalled the wonderful years we shared growing up with one another. While life had taken us down different roads, no time or distance could ever rob us of those delightful memories. We spent summers together as kids, riding horses and having slumber parties. We healed each other’s broken hearts, we laughed, we swam in muddy ponds, and we competed in horse shows and rodeos and cheered each other to victory. When each of us got married, the other was in the wedding party. She had girls, I had boys, and we kept in contact for all these years, never realizing it would end so suddenly or so early. Tammy was only 43.

Tammy never reacted when I squeezed her hand. She did not notice my soft strokes on her arm, but I touched and I talked to her anyway, because I had to tell her one more time how much I loved her and that I would never forget her.

As I was sitting by her bed and recounting the best of times, Bridget returned to go through her vigilant ritual. While she worked, she asked me about our relationship and I gladly shared my memories of Tammy with her—the beautiful woman, the loving wife, the wonderful mother and daughter, and my perfect friend.

Bridget pressed a pen hard against Tammy’s fingers, hoping for any kind of response.

“Oh, Tammy,” she said sadly to no one in particular when she got no reaction. “It breaks our hearts, too,” she said, turning to me. “Some of the nurses can’t even come in here because they identify with Tammy too much.”

She continued, “How are the girls? What are they doing and how are they handling this?”

I gave her a report on Tammy’s young daughters and her husband and parents. Then I thanked and blessed this little ponytailed brunette for asking and being so compassionate.

Alone again with my dear friend, I told her not to worry, that everything would be fine. I assured her that it was okay to die so young because we had lived a lifetime in a short amount of time. Then I kissed her and told her goodbye.

The gift of compassion comes in many forms. It is a nurse speaking tenderly while she performs a difficult task. It is a dying woman who made arrangements for organ donation. It is a friend in the hallway who painfully retells again and again the heartrending news to each new person arriving. Compassion is a husband with the strength to quietly and confidently say, “We will get through this with the help of our church family.” It is a parent who pleasantly receives friends and is gracious and hospitable under the worst of conditions. It is a friend who is willing to let go, lovingly, not bitterly.

I left the hospital thankful to have some closure, yet trembling from the intensity of the helplessness and sorrow. I also left with one final unspoken gift from my dear, dying friend. Tammy taught me, without ever knowing, to remember how important it is to take the time each day to be tender and compassionate, for we are not promised tomorrow.

~Brenda Black

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