Mary was loud and presumptuous.
She thinks she owns the place! I thought to myself as I walked by the nurse’s desk where Mary proudly perched daily, surrounded by nurses and physicians. She seemed to love being around other medical professionals, and to talk non-stop about the patients.
Mary was in her mid fifties, working as a Hospice Nurse. Although she was not part of the nursing home staff, she acted as though she belonged to our company. Mary had an air of entitlement to the extent that she would lead and often criticize our staff.
“I can’t understand why she is so outspoken!” I complained to Doreen, the Assistant Director of Nursing.
“She means no harm,” Doreen shrugged. “That’s just her personality.”
One day, as we were holding a resident care meeting, Mary abruptly opened the conference room door, and lacking an apology I deemed appropriate, she inquisitively asked why she wasn’t invited to the meeting, given that she was the Hospice Nurse for that particular patient. I was unsure whether I forgot to notify Hospice of the meeting, or if there was an internal miscommunication at the Hospice agency.
In retrospect, I question myself whether I unconsciously failed to notify Hospice as a way to avoid Mary in the meeting. In prior meetings where Mary had been invited, she essentially took control of the meeting and the agenda, making everyone else look like her subordinates. Yet no one would confront Mary about her controlling behaviors.
As responsible of setting the care plan meetings, I felt forced to apologize to Mary—now I was the one to apologize. My dislike for Mary grew stronger. Her presence gnawed at me. It tormented me having to devise ways to dodge her, her inquisitive eyes and loud tone of voice.
“This has to be a karma!” I told Norah, a family friend who had agreed to meet me for lunch, and to listen to my frustrations.
“I’ve never met Mary but I do know she is married to James Jones, a well-known businessman in this town.” Norah said with calm voice.
“Seriously?" I exclaimed. “That explains Mary’s feelings of empowerment.”
I reflected on Mary’s personality and the association with her respected husband. I started to understand and accept the way she was. Although I still kept the distance between us, I tried to minimize my exasperating opinion about Mary—my judgmental thoughts, I realized.
Months later, on a cloudy morning of Spring, as I entered the nursing home, I noticed several members of the staff gathered around the nurse’s desk, talking with low voices, near whispering, with startled looks on their faces. I frowned, sensing that something unpleasant was brewing. My friend Lillian, the Admissions Coordinator, approached me quickly, delivering mortifying news:
“They found Mary dead this morning.” Lillian’s words sounded sad, and her face reflected a disturbed expression.
“Oh my God!” I covered my mouth, shocked.
“What happened?” I asked, after taking a breath.
“They don’t know.” Lillian said. “Well, they don’t want to say anything because it appears that she committed suicide.”
That was appalling. Overwhelming emotions embraced me. I felt guilty and ashamed for my lack of compassion for Mary. The unavoidable question arose on my mind. Why?
Mary’s death became a tragedy, not just for the facility and the Hospice staff, but also throughout the town. It was suspected that Mary ended her life with a prescribed drug overdose.
After her death, I learned about how miserable Mary’s life was. She and her husband were separated. Her husband was having an affair with a younger woman. Mary was devastated. The nursing home was the only place where Mary felt she did something valuable—and where she had some control. Every day, once her workday was over, Mary left the nursing home to face the reality of her failed marriage and the loneliness in a motel where she was temporarily staying.
The nursing home was Mary’s workplace but also her home—during the day. Beyond the facility walls, Mary felt near homeless.
I have thought of Mary throughout these years, mourning her death. I deeply regretted not sharing a cup of coffee or a good laugh with her. I rued my narrow, antagonizing and prejudging thoughts about Mary, and not opening my heart, perhaps allowing me to be another of her many friends. I lamented not praising her for the passion she had for her patients, and the elderly. I wished I had told her how beautiful she was, as Mary always looked so fancily dressed, wearing fashionable jewelry and accessories.
I learned a painful lesson, and I pray that I may see beyond people’s façadas and open my arms to the “Marys” that may cross my path. May I have a cup of coffee ready for them, and help them feel welcomed—make them feel at home.