My mother was supposed to die seven years ago, but she was a fighter. Her husband had Alzheimer’s and she was bound and determined to be there for him. For seven years, she struggled through one thing after another, making the most of every setback, suffering the indignities of a body failing itself. She dressed every day in her color-coordinated outfits, did her hair, put on make-up, and wore her beloved earrings. She wanted to be independent and self-sufficient, and she was. She made it possible for her husband to stay in the house he and his father had built despite his failing mind and her own problems.
In August, her most trusted physician told her there was nothing more he could do for her. For a second time, he recommended hospice. This time, she said, yes. So on Aug. 2, Nurse Ellen entered the room and proceeded to gently but realistically tell my mother what was happening and what she could offer. She wrapped my German-Irish mother in an imaginary blanket, settled her down, calmed her anxieties, and let my mother rest for the first time in years.
Once the hospital let my mother go home, Ellen was there arranging everything so my mother didn’t have to worry about a thing. But she did it in such a way that my mother still felt in charge, respected, and dignified. She helped my mother with the denial that sometimes happens with the dying so that in the end everything was arranged according to my mother’s wishes.
Ellen listened. Ellen cared. She told my mother she loved her, and she did. “We love what we care for and we care for what we love.’’ Ellen was the human embodiment of that statement. My mother felt it and was supremely confident in her. She trusted her and looked forward to her visits three times a week. She shared with Ellen her innermost fears and anxieties and Ellen was able to bring her some relief.
When the time came in November, Ellen was right there. She asked my mother what she wanted and gave it to her so that her final hours were not painful or frightening or distressed. She helped a fighter win her final fight with dignity and in doing so she helped us all.
—Nominated by Laura Buckley