Impossible Goodbyes

16 Mar

Quote from the amazing woman who knit this for me: "Every time you use this dish cloth it will make you think, 'Gosh darn that old woman, she made me wash the dishes!'"

I felt like I was breaking up with my residents last night. And I had to do it 10+ times.

It was incredibly difficult to leave these people, knowing that it is likely I will never see them ever again. How do you leave someone who you have known so intimately? I am not an expert in this. Never before have I said “goodbye” to someone who I have cared for. Frankly, I have never cared for someone in this capacity. It is not a parental role, nor is it the role of a babysitter: God no. What is it?

As a care manager, I learned the needs of all of my residents so that I could (hopefully) anticipate them intuitively, preserving as much independence as possible in every individual. I have discovered that as a grandchild, you know your grandparents on one kind of intimate level, familiar with their personality, their love, and compassion. But peel away the outermost layers of this metaphorical human-shaped onion and you may encounter closely guarded hopes and fears, basic needs, and sometimes, the most fundamentally raw emotions. You help them do the things (what we call “activities of daily living” or ADL’s) that we, as young people, don’t actively think about because they are as natural and easy to do as breathing. As one grows older, these ADL’s become monumental tasks, oftentimes requiring assistance to complete, which may be accepted with initial reluctance and insecurity. Accepting assistance establishes a degree of dependence on another human being, from which a relationship buds, that is unique and completely unreplicable. Bathing a person, picking out clothes and dressing, assisting with bathroom needs; these are the tasks that we don’t often think about doing, but in assisting someone else, they became simple pleasures for me.

Initially, I pursued my Nursing Assistant Certification for the purpose of meeting a nursing school’s requirements, which turned out to be a school that I will not attend. Since then, however, I have discovered a plethora of reasons why this was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. First and foremost, I feel calmness in my soul. As silly as it may sound, I was seeking a place for my passions to land in the year post-college and I hadn’t quite hit it on the head. I found many things that I was interested in, but not the thing that scratched my itch in exactly the right way. Caring for people does that for me. More specifically, helping people heal tickles my pickle.

Furthermore, without this experience, I wouldn’t have these memories to look back upon when I dive headfirst into an intensely rigorous accelerated nursing program. I already imagine that as my mind’s personal helicopter whirls and twirls amid all the new and foreign clinical concepts, every once in a while it will settle peacefully on the landing pad of memories formed by working with my first patients: my residents. And as this happens, I can only hope that a reflexive nurturing quality of care will take over, and I will be a good clinician. Yesterday, I was able to hear (10 or more times) that I was a good caretaker, and I will be an excellent nurse. It felt amazing. (Tangent: However, today when I got my blood drawn, I tried to watch the needle go into my skin, and imagined myself doing the same things to another person, and I felt queasy and light headed.) All I can say is this: Oh boy, I really hope my residents are right. :-s

Yesterday, as I gave out my picture frames, my residents said a number of things to me that made me want to cry and smile all at once. My most independent resident said one thing that made my internal voice squeal, “This is something to be remembered! Scribble it on your inner whiteboard!”

She is graceful and tall and she knits a multitude of sweet dish cloths like a one-person factory. I hope I never forget her strong featured face as she looked at me and said simply, “Wherever you go, and whatever you do, think of us once in a while and we’ll think of you constantly.”

I am sure that I will think of all my residents more than “once in awhile” (just as I am certain they will not think of me as often as “constantly”). But it gives me great peace in knowing that even when I struggled, I was doing a decent job. My best is good enough and these people, who know me well, truly believe in me. I feel a deep-seated consciousness that as I progress, somewhere, somehow, my residents will be watching over me.


Posted by on March 16, 2010 in Healing Spoonful


Tags: , , , , ,

7 responses to “Impossible Goodbyes

  1. Jane

    March 16, 2010 at 11:05 pm


    Difficult to choose which topic is the most delightful. I love your creativity in so many areas and the degree of human connection and healing you evidence in these entries.

    Please don’t doubt for a moment that you would bring something deeply healing and amazing to nursing or whatever care profession you choose. Your delight in your residents and ability to see them as the wonderful individuals they still are is awe-inspiring. I think you need to recognize how gifted you truly are.

    I have been a social worker/psychotherapist for 30 years (nothing like dating myself) and I have rarely encountered someone as highly connected and authentic as you are, in or out of the field.

    • rachelsspoonful

      March 16, 2010 at 11:24 pm

      Jane, Thank you so much. Your words, to an impressionable young woman, are so valuable. I am glad you enjoy my stories of helping and healing. These memories, and my residents, mean the world to me.

  2. Matthew

    March 17, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Your “blogging” has come a long way. Sounds like a silly verb for something so introspective….I see you are also trying to come up with your own sayings; tickle your pickle, nice, except I don’t think you have a pickle.

  3. geena

    March 18, 2010 at 6:59 am

    well Rachel…if you ever want to become a writer in your spare time….well scratch already have become a writer in your spare time. Your blogs are delightful and well written and over the years as you read them back, they will make you smile, and make you cry -what’s better than that? I seriously doubt you will ever have the same connection with the people you care just won’t have the time..but your experience with these lovely people will make you a better nurse and in the future, when you are rushing through your day – and you feel like you are being pulled in too many directions and you don’t have the luxury of time, you can remember a smile or a song or a look and maybe it will give you pause and you will know you are making a difference to every person you come in contact with. love you – Geena

  4. Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti

    March 18, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Dear Rachel: I am a therapist friend of your mother’s and she has raved to me about you and your writing, so naturally I had to check it out. Wow does she have cause to be proud of her deep, articulate and insightful daughter: you are all that and a bag o’ chips, chicka! I will be back again!

    • rachelsspoonful

      March 19, 2010 at 6:24 pm

      I apologize that you have to listen to my mother talking about me all the time. 🙂 She can’t help it, it’s like a mother-daughter disease. Not very contagious, I am quite certain. But I am so glad you like my blog! It’s wonderful to have a space to share my stories, decompress and work through things. Thanks for your sweet words!

  5. genie

    March 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    I too have enjoyed both the writing and the feelings…I am so glad to have learned about Rachel’s blog…It has been the highlight of my day!!!


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