1. Schaffner, Marilyn PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CGRN

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My mother's best friend, Bertha, was diagnosed with metastatic cancer before Christmas and was told to "get her things in order" as she had maybe 4 months to live. My then 86-year-old mother and Bertha, 91 years old, had been friends for more than 60 years. In the early 1950s, they developed a "women's club" where eight friends met monthly to play cards and socialize. As the friends retired and died, the group dwindled to four and their "outing" became a weekly event. Even after my mother moved to South Carolina, she kept in touch with her friend, Bertha, on a weekly basis. Mom made several trips back to Illinois to see her beloved friend. In July, we planned to travel to Illinois for a family reunion. Although excited to see her family, my mother was most anxious to see her best friend one last time.


As if she had to tend to some "unfinished business," Bertha defied the odds and lived well beyond the prediction of "4 months." We got off the plane and within less than 24 hours, mom was on her way to see Bertha. We pulled up to her home (yes, she was still living alone), and Bertha skipped down the porch steps to greet my mother. It took my breath away as I watch them hug one another, weep with joy, and whisper to each other, "It is so great to see you." It was as if-in slow motion-the two became one. They spent the entire day together. Mom said they sat on the couch holding hands, recalling old times. When my husband and I picked mom up late that afternoon, she and Bertha were sitting at Bertha's dining room table eating a dinner of Kentucky Fried Chicken on her best china. It was a sight to behold!


Bertha slipped into a coma 48 hours later and died peacefully at home. The day after Bertha's death, my mother received a note in the mail from Bertha, lovingly recalling their time together. The note had been written the morning before she slipped into a coma.


Recently, I had the privilege of caring for my mom as her health declined to her death at the age of 90 years. There are many moments that could be dismissed in our everyday rush through life, but become moments that take our breath away when we are mindful. Here are some of those moments:


* I was waiting as mom was getting her nails polished. A young teenage girl sitting next to mom suddenly got up and grabbed a paper towel and gently handed it to mom to wipe the drool from her face.


* One day I came home to find my husband and mom watching Tiny House Nation on TV-a show that my husband, because of lack of interest, refused to watch with me!


* One night after being awakened three times to help mom to the bathroom, mom whispered in a voice I could barely hear, "God will bless you one hundred times over in heaven."


After mom's death at the age of 90 years, I found a number of handwritten notes that took my breath away:


* Before her stroke at 82 years, mom loved to sew. Inside her sewing basket was a note to herself that stated: "Loretta, try to treat everyone you meet as if he/she were Christ."


* Mom and I talked about death and dying. She never feared death. In her address book, I found a message: "I think of heaven as a garden where I shall find again those dear ones who have made my world."


* In her jewelry box, I found a note with explicit instructions for her funeral attire. It included the following note: "Put me in high heels so I can dance all the way to heaven."


As nurses, it is such a privilege to be part of a patient's most sacred moment-the dying process. As nurse leaders, we are obligated to support our nurses as they journey with their patients from dying to death. As nurses, we have the opportunity to help the patient and his or her family facilitate "unfinished business." As nurses, we have the opportunity to assist the patient with as respectful and peaceful a death as possible. These are moments, as nurses, that take your breath away.