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After printing the last EKG and charting the post exercise data, my shift as an outpatient cardiac rehabilitation nurse ended. Heading out of the hospital, I was focusing on plans for the evening. Then I spotted Gus, a favorite patient, as he entered the lobby, hand-in-hand with his wife Pauline. Greeting them, I sensed fear and distress as they headed toward their outpatient appointment. Pauline had experienced headaches, memory loss and dizziness over the past few days, so she was being evaluated. As they turned toward the elevator, Gus remarked, "We pray that it is nothing serious."
When I arrived at work the next day, I heard that Pauline had been hospitalized with a brain stem aneurysm. The nursing staff knew and loved Gus and his family. He had been coming to our program regularly for eight years. The mood was somber as we went through the day, knowing that he was facing the heart-wrenching reality of his wife's imminent death.
After my workday ended, I made my way to Pauline's hospital room. As I neared the room, I heard Gus and his daughter, Mary, sobbing. When I saw tears streaming down Gus's face, I remembered the tender way he had spoken about his wife over the years. A bond of love had been built between Gus and Mary over their fifty years of marriage. Moved by the love and the loss, tears filled my eyes, and my heart grieved with the family. All I could offer was a hug, my shoulder for their tears, my listening ears and a prayer for Christ's comforting touch. At a loss for words, I tearfully joined the silent vigil around their comatose loved one.
A bit annoyed with myself, I questioned if tears were a personal weakness. I felt ashamed that regardless of how hard I tried, I could not hide them. However, when a thank-you note arrived from Mary, I was shocked to learn that the real gift I gave to the family that day was my tears. Mary wrote, "Thank you for your sensitive care to our family. Through your tears we saw the beauty of your nurse's heart. They ministered a healing touch to our hurting hearts."
Mary affirmed that my tears were a gift I'm never to be ashamed of or to hide. Scripture confirms this when it says, "weep with those who weep" (Rom 12:15). The most important nursing care I provided that day was participating in their grief.
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