By Julianna Paradisi, who normally blogs at JParadisi RN and has written for this blog before. Her artwork appeared on the cover of the October 2009 issue of AJN, and her essay, “The Wisdom of Nursery Rhymes,” was published in the February issue.
The autumn leaves are particularly beautiful in Oregon this year. An arborist interviewed on the evening news attributed the extraordinary orange and gold to an unusually cold, wet spring, which lasted until July, followed by the intense heat and warm evenings of a brief Indian summer. According to the arborist, the combination caused a greater than normal amount of sugar in the leaves, resulting in the brilliant colors. I think about this on my morning run, as my feet scatter fallen leaves along the sidewalk.
The Season of Eating is, however, not the only messenger of the approaching holidays in a nursing unit. There is something about the holiday season that signals Death to harvest a higher than normal number of the patients we have grown to love through the course of their illnesses. Some of the deaths are expected, but not all of them. I don’t know why more people seem to lose their battles with illness around the holidays than at other times of year.
When I first began working in outpatient oncology, it took me by surprise that my coworkers gleaned the obituaries of our local paper, clipping the ones of our patients. I soon learned that sometimes this was the only way we nurses learned that one of these patients had died, since physicians’ offices don’t necessarily have a mechanism for notifying us.
I make it a point to read each of the obituaries I find pinned on a wall near the nurses’ desk. No matter how well I got to know a patient, their obituary always teaches me something I didn’t know about them: they made quilts for the needy, they formed a foundation for the education of underprivileged children, they were a war hero, an educator, a talented cook or gardener. The names of those they loved.
This fall, I hold a handful of newspaper clippings in my hands, as if they are a bouquet of dried autumn leaves. The obituaries tell the stories of people blessed by both rain and sun, who created lives of intense color.