Saturday, February 20, 2016

Today I went to a funeral.

I walked in to the church and looked for people I knew. The first person I spotted was Mike, Jenna's husband, so I walked straight up to him and hugged him.

I have never seen anyone look as empty as he did.

Then Jenna's mother found me, and her brothers, and her various other relatives, and I got hugged and kissed to the point that I no longer cared about leaving makeup marks on their nice clothes.

I sat down about six rows from the back, in a pew that didn't have anybody in it. I stayed there until the music started and the family came down the aisle. Jenna's mom grabbed me and said, "Jo, you're family. Come sit with us." I started to ask "Are you sure?" but she had my hand so tight that I decided to shut the hell up and go with it.

So I ended up in what was nominally a family pew, right behind the family, with Lauren and Casey, the PAs who took care of Jenna when she was really sick.

I'm glad they were there. I didn't cry because they were there.

Everybody there but me, I think, was a believer. They read poetry and psalms and proverbs, and talked about the value of a capable and thoughtful wife. They talked about the love of a good friend, and how they were sure she would be waiting for them in Heaven when they died. They called her a pearl of great price and said her value was beyond that of rubies.

Here is the Jenna I know, the one who I was both nurse to and friends with:

She was jealous of the shirt that I have that says "My cancer is rarer than your cancer. Neener neener."

She was always more than ready to talk about something other than her illness. Mostly, that something was how ready she was to get back to work (teaching) or her kids or her husband, but it also turned to how weird life could be.

She was totally unshockable. I sent her texts with pictures of the guys across the street doing half-naked yoga on their roof, or the pile of clothes somebody left in my front yard, or the latest whacko project that one of the neighbors had conceived, and her response was always "I miss Littleton. It's such a great place!" Sometimes that was followed by "Did that dude ever come get his clothes?"

Jenna was never, that I saw, really angry about what had happened to her. I'm sure she got angry at times, or got rebellious against what she saw as God's plan for her, but she never did so with me. That's not to imply that she simply accepted things as they were: she most emphatically did not. As Lauren said, the most incredible thing to watch was how she went from being scared and anxious to being strong and confident. She didn't so much fight as she just lived, in defiance of everything.

Mike and Jenna visited me at work one day and I asked to see her head. She was really, really cute without hair. Like, more attractive than anybody has a right to be.

At her funeral, there was a slideshow: Jenna with Mike. Jenna with college friends. Jenna, as a toddler, dressed up in a bee costume, her grandmother by her side. Jenna holding a fishing pole, frowning at somebody off-camera as she stood knee-deep in a river. Jenna sitting atop some promontory somewhere, with all the sky behind her, having hiked all that way. Jenna pregnant by the ocean.

Jenna and her baby son, both of them bald as cueballs, grinning the same grin.

Here is the secret of being a nurse: your memory becomes a library of people who are no longer here. Sometimes that makes you feel like there's been too much grief. Sometimes it makes you angry at a God that you're not even sure exists, because if He or She did, then why would we need children's hospitals or funerals where toddlers are in the front row? Mostly, though, it just makes you thankful.

I didn't make a huge difference, or do anything heroic, or actually do anything special. All I did was break my personal rule and become friends with a patient. This time, that person died. This time, I was stupid and opened myself up to that horrible feeling of not having done enough, the feeling of having failed a person who is much better and kinder than I will ever be.

And next time, I will do the same damn thing all over again.

I got lucky this time. I met Jenna, and I am proud to have been her friend. She was good people.

And I will never, ever, ever forget her.


bobbie said...

A beautiful post. My heart goes out to you and Jenna's family ~

gela said...

Sound like you and Jenna were lucky to have been friends. My condolences for your loss.

Laura said...

Sobbing. Absolutely sobbing.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. The following quotation comes to mind:

“… for that is what redeems us, that is what makes our pain and sorrow bearable—this giving of love to others, this sharing of the heart.”

--Alexander McCall Smith's In the Company of Cheerful Ladies.

Queen Anne's Lace

Dr. Alice said...

I just went through this too. It really hurts. But I know that I am a better person for having known the person that I lost, and I am very glad to have known them. Everything you said is 100% right on.

RehabRN said...

You can barricade the doors, show the game face every day, be that nursing professional and there's always one (or two...)who get past it all.

And you never, ever forget them. I know the feeling. Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

you made me cry bless you for the great job you do.....

Anonymous said...

Hugs. That's all, just hugs.

Anonymous said...

You did it. You spoke for me. I might share some of this post with people who know me, but can't know what I do, how much I give even if it seems never enough. This is what we nurses do. Thanks, Jo.

clairesmum said...

Rehab RN's comment says it better than I can. Peace.

salsabike said...

Beautiful, Jo. I'm sorry. And I'm glad. Thank you.

Penny Mitchell said...

I'm just so sorry. I'm sorry for your loss, and I'm sorry for your losses in the future, because I know you won't change. And for that I am so profoundly grateful. Thank you for taking these bullets. The universe needs you.