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I have been working as a visiting nurse for about six months and visit ten people daily, most of whom suffer from chronic, degenerative illnesses or cancer. I encounter a variety of family situations. Some people are alone, others are part of large families. There are elderly couples, wealthy people and some who are supported by social services. Others have caretakers who are  primarily from Eastern Europe. My patients face complex situations and are often in the last stages of their lives. 

What healing journey is possible for someone who is living this special time of their lives? And how can we care for them?
I was moved by a definition I learned at the University: “to care for” means “to help the patient achieve the greatest possible degree of autonomy, taking into account the actual situation of illness and consequent fragility that derives from it and of the limitations that the illness brings.” 

For me the words “help, taking into account the illness, fragility, limitations” are in the ‘dictionary‘of those who want to be close to the suffering and who are experiencing the last unique stages of their lives. 

10

Trust
I was entrusted with a patient defined as a “terminal oncology patient.” When I visited, I found a warm and family-like atmosphere. His wife assisted him day and night. They loved each other though they constantly argued. That can happen with couples that have been together for a long time. They did not have children. They shared their faith in God and I would visit them after 9:00 a.m., since his wife would go to Mass first. 
I administered the prescribed therapy daily. They had many concerns and fears and had no knowledge about palliative care or how to contact doctors and healthcare services. I do not stay at their home until the whole therapy is completed, so I showed the patient’s wife how to stop the IV. The husband was not happy, saying, “I don’t trust her.” I tried to help them both trust. He later told me jokingly to be careful because his wife could steal my job! Here is another key word – trust.  

Responsibility
The patient seemed unaware of his diagnosis or how serious the illness was; it was his wife’s decision not to tell him. She explained to me why, but did not ask for my opinion. She was certain she had done the right thing. I respected her choice and the responsibility she took upon herself because this gave her serenity and she was able to give her husband courage. Responsibility is also a key word. 

Freedom and generosity
He was anxious because he was depending on his wife for everything. He was unable to walk by himself and had difficulty moving even in bed. He never asked what his illness was nor how serious it was. He only asked about therapeutic procedures and symptoms and would give me an account of the symptoms he was experiencing. I tried to respect his wife’s decision and did not inform him of his condition, but answered his numerous questions.

One day he asked why the  nausea and vomiting would not stop. I answered that he would have to live with these for the rest of his life. He was moved and I realized that he was most likely aware of his situation and how really sick he was. 

The next day (it was mid-December), they told me that I had become part of their family and they gave me a present -- a box of chocolates wrapped in beautiful golden paper! I was surprised by a gift that came so early before Christmas and was moved by this free, generous giving and the simplicity with which they expressed their love for me. Freedom and generosity is another discovery: only within a healing spirit can people give so freely. 

A few days later, the patient’s wife asked me to please wait because her husband had asked – after a long time – to go to Confession and receive the Eucharist. I found him very relaxed and at peace. He seemed reborn compared to previously -- so much so that I told his wife, “He looks really good today.” She called the next day: he had a respiratory crisis and was in the hospital. He died a few days later. 

Last week I visited and she told me about his last days. She also spoke about her concerns and  future plans and asked me to visit again.

A friendship has been born, suddenly and unexpectedly, like all of God’s gifts. 

Sr. Mara Bellutta, sfp