A Relay of Control

A Relay of Control

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

A Relay of Control

Love is all we have, the only way that each can help the other.

Euripides

It was with sadness and dread that I received a phone call from one of our hospital discharge planners telling me a patient, Joyce, had gone home and wanted me to call her. Joyce was a former coworker with me in another agency and was, ironically, their first hospice nurse.

I knew Joyce had been living with breast cancer for the past five years and had undergone a bone marrow transplant and multiple courses of chemotherapy. I had renewed my relationship with her a few years earlier when she was chairperson for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Our hospice team participated in this twenty-four-hour fund-raiser. Joyce’s energy and enthusiasm were contagious.

I called this wonderfully vivacious and funny lady and agreed, with a heavy heart, to come to her home. She said she understood that I managed the hospice program and would be coming in that context.

The next day I visited her and spent about three hours with her and her mother. Her husband, Steve, came home on his lunch break and we talked at length about Joyce’s disease and the services of hospice. Joyce was not ready to give up the fight. She was only forty-seven years old (my age), a wife, and the mother of three young children. She was still convinced she would beat this disease. About a week later, after several more calls from family and friends, Joyce agreed to hospice care. She asked if I would be her nurse and I reluctantly told her I could not, because as the manager, I wouldn’t be able to give her my full attention. However, I would come and see her as her friend.

And so began my visits, at least once or twice a week. Each was a spiritual experience. Joyce and I practiced the same religion and had strong faith. We also loved angels and believed in their presence and guidance. Despite her faith, Joyce struggled with accepting her impending death, determined she would live to see her three children grown.

During one of my visits, I told her that the hospice team would march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to advertise the Relay for Life. I told her the Hospice Clowns (of which I am one) would also be there. “I hope you and your family can come and watch,” I coaxed.

With that mischievous twinkle in her eye, she said, “I’ll be marching with you. After all my years of working on that race, I’m not about to just watch it.”

During the ensuing month, though, Joyce started to decline. She became weaker and weaker and, at times, confused. She still insisted she was not going to die and was very frustrated when others tried to be more realistic. Finally, one day she cried out in anguish, “I can’t die! I just can’t!”

I held her bony hand in mine. “Joyce, please put yourself in God’s hands and trust that He will lead you in whichever direction you should go. You can control what you can, and the rest you have to leave up to Him and His angels.”

A remarkable sense of peace came over her and from that day on she seemed to accept her fate. She slept more and more each day until finally I received a call from her friend, Linda, asking me to come. Joyce was not responding and the family was unsure what to do.

“I’m in my car only about a mile from Joyce’s house,” I told Linda. “But I’m dressed as a clown because I was headed for the parade.” I asked her to prepare the family for my appearance at this heart-wrenching time.

I arrived to find Joyce in a coma and knew by her symptoms that death was near. As the tears rolled down my face, I said, “Joyce, you’re still in control; you couldn’t get to the parade so you brought the parade to you.” I made sure she was comfortable, then told the family, “I need to walk the parade—for Joyce.” Privately I told Linda, “Page me if she dies before I get back.”

Halfway through the parade my pager rang. Ironically, I was again about one mile from her home. I removed my wig, wiped at my makeup, and went back to Joyce’s to give the pronouncement and console her family.

As I drove home and the tears continued to flow, I had an overwhelming sense that Joyce had joined God and His angels in controlling the events of the day. They sent in a clown.

Flo LeClair

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