I turned my head away, and discreetly wiped the tears from my eyes. It’s very rare for me to become tearful in front of my residents or their family members. As a professional, I feel that if I can’t control my emotions, I won’t be able to give what my clients need at their time of crisis, my support, and rational advice. Crying with the clients can put a social worker at risk of overstepping her boundaries into the grieving that the clients need guidance surviving through.
That was a tough day at the nursing home. An urgent meeting with one of my residents, Mrs D, and her daughter was about to start. It was an important meeting with the professionals of the different disciplines -interdisciplinary team- to discuss Mrs D’s care plan. There were critical decisions to make. Mrs D was unable to speak due to prior stroke. She could only communicate using a board with pictures and symbols.
After assessing her current life situation, and addressing her medical issues, the meeting coordinator asked Mrs D: “Let us know your wishes”. Mrs D looked sad. She was confined to a wheel chair, and a feeding tube provided her only sustenance. We all knew she hated the feeding tube.
She had been a very active and independent woman, and had always made clear to her family that she wouldn’t want any artificial means to prolong her life. Mrs D had actually signed her living will long time ago. Her end-of-life wishes were written in her Advance Directives.
Mrs D looked at us, then looked at her daughter. Slowly, she lifted her hand, and pointed her index finger at the ceiling. It was very obvious.
She was ready to go to heaven.
We all looked at her anxious daughter. She had been upset when she heard that her mother was not making any progress with therapy.
“She may be ready, but I’m not”, the daughter exclaimed. She drew close to her mother. “Mom, I know this is not how you want to live, but I am not ready to let you go”. Mrs D’s daughter broke in tears.
Mrs D looked upon her daughter with compassionate and maternal expression. She caressed her daughter’s hand as best she could with her stroke-impaired hand. Then she pointed to her board. She looked at the pictures. I wasn’t sure if she was looking for the appropriate picture, or if she was just thinking. She slowly moved her daughter’s hand she held to one of the pictures, and placed her finger on it. Only one.
It was a heart.
She then pointed her daughter’s hand to her own heart. It was very clear.
I love you, was the message.
“I love you too, Mom”, Mrs D and her daughter embraced in an infinite hug I’ve never witnessed before. The room already silent, swelled with calm. Not one word was said. Everyone stood motionless. I couldn’t see the others’ faces as my eyes welled with tears.
The meeting gently adjourned. We left the room with the certainty that we have witnessed the love of a daughter and her dying mother, my job to help bridge. This was the mother and daughter journey that they were to go through together, not guided by an advance directive or a written document.
Only by their love, their love for each other.