I never knew how painful it was to watch someone pass until I became a nurse.
Those priceless few moments you get to spend with a stranger, listen to their stories over and over again and hold their hand when they get depressed over their health status. They say time is the one thing you can never take back, and when a stranger passes before your eyes, you realize how easily life can be taken away. You didn’t have to be a warlock to prevent death. You just had to be there to witness life.
I remember this one old lady I took care of once. She was a funny one. She was always thankful each time a nurse entered and gave her her medication. Even though the nurse came to change her IV, which was quite painful, she was thankful still. She’d tell me stories each time I enter her room to take her vitals. Her daughter would roll her eyes because maybe she’s heard those stories for the millionth time. She’d stay ecstatic talking about it anyway. She would signal her daughter to give the nurses extra fruits she receives from her children everyday. It was very thoughtful.
Time came when her doctor came with her lab results. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, for the first time, I saw her usual smiling face turn into a melancholic smile, a smile that tried so hard to keep her sadness to herself. Of course, as a nurse I had to try my best to comfort her even though I really have no idea how to ease a person’s suffering, let alone someone near their time. It’s the end of my duty anyway so I sat there and listened to her.
Turns out she used to be a nurse too. She didn’t talk about it before because she thought it may intimidate the nurses taking care of her. (And it got me thinking about those times I answered her medical questions half-assed. This woman. She knew what she was asking about all along.) Anyway, embarrassment aside, she told me about her experiences as a nurse, the funny stories she encountered and how the hospitals were during the Martial law. It’s weird how brave this woman could be. It must be truly depressing to be the person who took care of patients now become a patient herself. I just sat there listening, the only way I know I could help.
T’was in the late afternoon when visitors came to her room. A lot of them actually. It was such a fun event to watch: a reunion of her children who went home from different parts of the world just to be with her for the last time. Even though the reunion happened on her hospital bed, still it was a reunion to behold. She was ecstatic! Although she was too weak to get up earlier, there she was sitting comfortably on her bed carrying her grand child as her children kept on exchanging stories, keeping up with each other after such a long time. It was actually embarrassing to butt in just to give her due meds but everyone was so gracious and accommodating. They were her children anyway.
Unfortunately, due to her scheduled operation that night, we had to break the three hour long get together in order to prep her ready. I hated to be the party pooper but it had to be done. They had to go and let their mother take a rest before the operation. I guess it was at that time her children realized how notoriously quick the time is. The once excited and noisy environment morphed back into the hospital’s version of reality. I seriously tried to fight the tears welling up my eyes as I watched her family members hug and kiss her one by one.
It must be fate that gave me a two day vacation so I wouldn’t witness her passing.
You’ll never get to see your life pass before your eyes until it’s all over. But I guess that’s what photographers are here for. Award winning lifestyle photographer Tom Hussey created a series called “Reflections“, pictures of old people looking back at their younger selves in the mirror, remembering the good ol’ times. It was a genius yet heart breaking idea that instantly made me tear up. It was actually an advertisement campaign for the Exelon Patch by Novartis, a medication against Alzheimer’s. It’s painfully brilliant.
“I don’t care how old you are, when you look into a mirror, you think of yourself as younger than you are. You have a memory of a time in your life that was pivotal — be it when you got your drivers license, your senior year in High School, or maybe the year you married.
The “Reflections” advertising campaign was based on a portfolio shoot I made to illustrate this thought. The idea hit me as I was talking with a WWII veteran named Gardner about his life experiences. He was about to celebrate his 80th birthday.
He commented that he didn’t understand how he could be 80 years old as he felt he was still a young man. He just didn’t feel it was possible he could be 80 years old. I started thinking about a milestone age approaching for me, as I was nearing 40. I realized that everyone thinks of themselves at a certain age or time in life.”
This made me realize how I used to wish I was eighteen when I was younger, and now I’m slowly counting the years before my age goes off the calendar. Sometimes we’re too excited about the future we forget to enjoy the present. And when all our goals are met, our dreams achieved and our desires fulfilled, we hold on to them dearly like we’ll stay young forever.