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This piece is dark and I feel like I should almost put out a disclaimer to anyone who might read it. Writing is cathartic; that’s what I needed.

I’ve been staring at this screen for a long time and still don’t know how to start. Though I can’t see myself doing anything else, sometimes being a nurse sucks. It just does. I know I should be sharing the good sides of nursing, and there are many- the honor of working with people who let you in at the most intimate times of their lives, being witness to miracles, seeing patients who were on the brink of death recover fully- but that’s not what this post is about. Today the well’s run a little dry and I’m praying for rain soon. It’ll come. It always does. Maybe even tomorrow.

Recently, we had a patient with end-stage lung disease. He’d been on our unit a few weeks, and we all had gotten to know him well. Early in the morning, his nurse called me to say he was having distress. We got him past the event with medications and a respiratory treatment; he had declined so much since I’d seen him last.

He asked me to stay with him after the others left so I pulled a chair up to his bed. He took my hand, looked into my eyes, and asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”

I said, “You’re very sick, Mr. Gandy. I know you’ve been speaking with your doctors about your options.” They had been discussing hospice and comfort measures but Mr. Gandy hadn’t made a decision yet.

“Yeah, I’ve been talking to them. I want to talk to you now. Please tell me.” He must have read my mind because the next words out of his mouth were, “I know you’re not a doctor and that’s ok. It’s just you and me in this room and you’ve been doing this a long time. Please tell me what’s going to happen.”

“If what happened this morning happens again, or if you get any worse, we’ll have to intubate you. If we do that, we may not be able to get you off the ventilator.” Saying those words out loud was awful. I don’t want to try to imagine how his hearing them must have felt.

He asked, “How long do I have? Is it weeks? Days? I’m not gonna make it out of the hospital, am I?” I answered honestly. His eyes were filled with tears; he squeezed my hand and said, “Thank you.” He asked me to call his brother for him so I did.

When the doctor came in, I told him what Mr. Gandy and I had been talking about. We discussed the progression of his disease and his prognosis with him. When asked about his goals, Mr. Gandy said, “My goal, what I want, is to be able to go home…but I know that’s not realistic.” What do you say to that? Sometimes, often really, there just are no words. He gave us an out when he said, “Tell me about comfort care.”

Mr. Gandy ultimately made the decision to be a DNR and opted for comfort measures only. He asked me to call his family again and I did. That too was tough.

I am very fortunate to have the best, most compassionate coworkers in the world. Some of the nurses got Mr. Gandy’s nurse to take a break and took over the care of her other patients. They also pitched in to perform some of my tasks so I could stay with the patient. I stayed with him until he died about an hour later.

We try everything we can to bring comfort to those suffering-giving medicines and treatments; most of the time it helps. Other times, we have to hope that our presence makes a difference.

My ego leads me to think I should be able to fix everything myself. It gets in the way and is unfair to others. One of my neighbors is a really close friend and is like a younger brother. His daughter is my favorite of all the neighborhood kids ( We were talking about Hannah one day, and Jeff said, “I’m just trying to make sure she doesn’t grow up to be an a-hole.” You’re successful, Dad, because she’s definitely not! Keeping his words in mind and striving hard to not be an a-hole either, I reached out to one of my brothers and one of my sisters about struggling with this death. Talking to them helped immensely.

Now I’m just waiting on the rain…

November Memories


To my Carter family,

I think of you all often and especially at this time of year with Thanksgiving fast approaching. Memories from a very long time ago and those from more recent years, some silly and some not…they are all as vivid in my mind as if they happened yesterday. These are a few of the things I remember when I think of you.

Much love,

Ashleigh img035

Grandpa: tractor rides, “honey-bunch”, your big grin; sneaking into your office with you sitting in that old wooden desk chair- every time you heard me come in, you’d open your arms for a hug



Grandma: your endless patience! Teaching your grandchildren how to play the piano and to milk cows- more than once you were squirted in the face, but you’d just wipe off your glasses, smile, and let us try again

Dad: your sense of humor; hearing you laugh at your own jokes, snort, then snort some more…that’s what really made them funny; you hiding from your Dad when you went outside to smoke; hearing you tell stories from your childhood


Uncle A.L.: the smell of your pipe; though neither of us were big ‘small-talkers’, you’d ask me what I thought about something and really listen to the answer; you didn’t shoot the bunny; you taught me how to throw a punch; Princess and the painted toenails



Aunt Maxine: the way you always know the right words at the right time; Hello-Dollies (thank you for making everyone’s favorite desserts each Thanksgiving); how quick you are to smile; the apple cake; Concho

Aunt Inez: your warmth; at the times when I needed it most, you let me know I mattered; long drives from Alabama to Negreet with a car full of teenagers; coffee and sewing


Uncle Gerry: you were always kind to my Mom, even after she and Dad divorced

Uncle Ike: the way your eyes crinkle up when you smile and laugh; your love of horses; watching rodeo VHS tapes with you for hours- we would have kept watching, but everyone else had other plans for us to be social! 14344945_10154447489281000_629348307474661689_n

Aunt Beth: your soft, sweet manner and gentle laugh; the way you’d always pat my knee when we were talking; you taught me how to forgive…not with words, but by example; yellow watermelon (the first one I ever saw was with you); you look for the good in others


Uncle Georg: the Store and HAM radios; your sense of humor too- it’s always hard to tell if you are pulling someone’s leg…until your eyes give it away

Anne Catherine: your love for Dad’s family; your beautiful accent; I had a huge crush on your handsome brothers all those years ago (Shhh, don’t tell!) 14390680_10154446801616000_5526713025807544775_n

Leigh Ann: the big bucket of hot chocolate mix; staying up very late to talk; your passion for nursing; the way you loved Ray and the courage you had to open your heart again with Corky- I’m glad you found happiness

Lawana: I love your laugh; the quiet way you show your tenderness- you were so sweet to Austin when he was a baby and you met him for the first time; your sincerity 14317450_10154447490846000_4427929467865153051_n

Gary: the way you make Lawana laugh; your baseball caps; you pretended (??) I was a pest (and I was), but were still the first to include me in anything fun; how much you love Aunt Maxine

Lana: so many memories…my partner in crime and forever staunch defender, no matter what and no matter when; the turnip greens; Hockaday and Bayside stories 14322453_10154447486546000_3918232671281643463_n

Jay M: meeting you for the first time, all of us in the kitchen drinking coffee with Aunt Inez, and seeing my dear cousin in love

Nita: your big beautiful blue eyes; you have your Mother’s way of making others feel special 14316935_10154447481151000_7021398830209113452_n

Jay W: your expressions- like it was with John, one single look from you can crack me up! Riding to Negreet with you and the boys when Austin was a baby and seeing how much you loved being a Dad; the night we all played Trivial Pursuit with your Mom tractor time

John: your heart, your laugh, your openness and generosity, your sense of humor; you were always barefoot when we were kids-you must’ve been a shoe rebel! Playing for hours in the hay loft; always hearing, “Hey pretty lady,” every time we spoke on the phone


Stacie: your doll, Mrs. Beasley! She went everywhere with you; going to Mr. Nathan’s store when there was still the old dirt road and sharing lik-m-stix on the way back img062

Georjann: the way you tell all of us “I love you”; your incredible memory! You recall details from years ago that the rest of us have forgotten, and I know if I don’t remember someone’s name, I can always ask you


Jennifer: seeing you with John when you were little, giggling every time he called you “Mennifer Jarie”; riding on the back of Grandpa’s tractor with you, laughing so hard every time he went over a bump and we nearly fell off; no matter how much time goes by, talking with you always feels like coming home

Joseph: your boots when you were a little kid; how you always took care of your sisters; you brought Dad to your parents’ house for Thanksgiving after he’d had a stroke; the way you made everyone feel comfortable and welcome


Anne: when you were very young, you would run full speed ahead and arms open wide to hug any of us that you hadn’t seen for a long time and I loved that about you; your sweet spirit


Daniel: as a young boy, you were always present, easy-going, and so very quiet, taking everything in;

Jordana: sometimes shy, sometimes talkative, yet always willing to join in; Dad adored you; seeing him carry you in his arms to look at the horses; I think you got your ‘deep thinker’ side from him


Mike: your flannel shirt matched the rest of us- somewhere there is a photo of almost every single Carter in flannel one Thanksgiving; your determination and work ethic; how you realized it would be futile to resist your obsessive, stalking, newly found sister when I phoned you


Cissy: your steadiness; one night, we all piled into a car to go see the Natchitoches Christmas lights and you were able to identify all the Bath & Bodyworks scents everyone was wearing! Just a small example of the way you find common ground with everyone and get them to talk, even the quiet ones

Tamara: your gentle voice; the ways you show that family is important- you’re like your Mom that way; your love for animals 14333163_10154447509631000_5788648884993851066_ndefault

Carter: as a very young boy, your inquisitive, adventurous nature and search for answers

Lindsey: I still picture you as a tiny girl with blue jeans and a button-down shirt playing on the steps outside Fort Jessup where we had a family reunion; I love seeing your photos of your beautiful family 14329903_10154446713141000_6378238242821869266_n

Chris: thank you for answering my endless email questions when I went through my crazy-middle-aged-fitness-phase! Watch out, there will be one coming again soon; you and Lindsey both make your parents so proud

Zach: you were always so polite and a joy to be with; in the car with your Dad on the way to Negreet, you forgave him for always promising a milkshake ‘just around the next corner’ and made sure to tell me he was joking so I wouldn’t get my hopes up


Tyler: you had me wrapped around your little finger when you were a young boy with your gorgeous smile; I loved seeing your Nanny’s face light up whenever you and Zach were around

Angie: your genuine happiness for your Dad as he was getting to know his family; you put others before yourself…not for recognition or thanks, but just because that’s who you are; every time I read Khalil Gibran’s piece in The Prophet “On Giving” I think of you 14344193_10154447450431000_5593204351961566444_n

Neil: as a teenager, you were surrounded by this newly found, flannel shirt wearing family and took it all in stride- thank you!

Catherine: watching you try valiantly to stay up late with your older cousins, seeing you crawl up on the couch saying you were only “gonna rest a little for a minute” then waking up covered with a blanket in the morning, genuinely surprised and disappointed you’d fallen asleep; seeing you and Jordana getting to know each other 14956467_1444776505540114_7940489661232069638_n

Austin: seeing you as a toddler in your overalls, looking at the horses with great wonder and feeding the deer; as a teenager, putting up with endless stories from your Mom-for hours- when we rode to Negreet together 14322493_1388547601160144_3649972821908517051_n


The Bedside Table and Rollercoaster Rides

Being a witness to true, pure, selfless, and unconditional love is so powerful that it can transform the soul and change a heart forever; I was blessed to have seen that kind of love a few days ago with one of my patients and her husband. God must have known my heart needed to be filled as He showed me the special bond between a brother and his little sister just the very next day.

Jo is a woman in her 60’s who has been a patient on our unit off and on for the past few months. She has a big heart, a dry sense of humor, and is well-loved by her husband, Robert, and their three adult children. Her liver is failing fast as she waits for a transplant and none of us know how much time she has left. Whatever her course may be, Robert will be right there by her side.

When I first entered Jo’s room that early morning just as the sun was beginning to make its appearance above the dark blue clouds, she was sleeping and Robert was sitting in a chair beside her bed. He was fighting tears as shared with me how scared he was because she’d become so sick very quickly. His voice cracked when he said, “Just a few months ago, she could do everything for herself. She was normal. And now…it’s just…I’m afraid of losing her.” I longed for the right words to say, something comforting…anything really… but sometimes there are no words and none came at that moment. All I could do was nod as we shared the silence that followed.

After I’d seen my other patients, I went back into Jo’s room. Robert had lifted her from the bed to the chair, and I found them sitting across from each other sharing breakfast on the battered hospital bedside table. Our tables are used for many things- a place to set medicine cups, water pitchers, procedure trays. This was the first time I’d seen one used for a breakfast date with a couple who’d been married 40 years and it was such a beautiful sight! A true gentleman, Robert made sure his bride was seated so she could look out the big window and have the best view. He told Jo, “I wish I had some flowers so you’d have something pretty to look at,” to which she replied, “I like looking at you.”

Jo left later that day to have a diagnostic test performed, and Robert finally laid down on the couch to rest. When she returned and I heard him snoring, I tried to be quiet as we moved her from the stretcher to the bed, knowing how tired he must be. As soon as he heard his wife’s sweet voice, though, he immediately awoke and jumped up to help. I wanted so badly to tell him, “It’s okay, we’ve got her,” but then remembered the words of a coworker far wiser than me caring for another patient near the end of life who said, “I used to think I knew what was best for patients and their families. I had good intentions but I was wrong. It’s not for us to decide what’s most important to them; it’s up to us just to honor whatever that is.” It was a gift that day to hear their lively banter during Jo’s good moments and see the gentleness between them during her bad ones- the kind of love that develops from spending a lifetime together.

Will is a 20 year old young man who received a liver transplant after having developed an autoimmune disorder. He and his parents were so sweet and engaging; I loved getting to know them all. Will had become really ill right after he started college and had spent the past year living back at home. He has an older sister and brother who were able to take turns being with him at his sickest when his parents had to work. He also has a little sister. Because their home is out of state, his siblings had not yet been able to see him since his surgery but were making the trip the following weekend.

When the doctors made their rounds, Will’s mom asked them all the “important” questions- about medicines, follow-up appointments, wound care, etc., then said, “ I just have one more question. I promised his 14 year old sister I’d ask this. Will he be able to ride roller coasters again?” I’ve never seen the surgeon smile wider than he did just then! He was grinning when he said,” Yes. Not right now! But please tell her ‘yes.’ In a few months, he can definitely ride roller coasters again.’ We loved hearing that a little sister’s top concern was that her brother could do fun things again… with her.

Will was discharged later that day. I waited with him while his parents left to load the car and he told me how excited he was to see the rest of his family. He said, “I really love all of my siblings. My little sister and I are especially close and I can’t wait to see her!”

I have a shameful secret, one that’s very hard to admit. For much of my life when I saw two people in love, I was happy for them, but there was always the whiny and very selfish thought, “Why not me? Why can’t I have that kind of love?” There are a myriad of reasons. I’ve made poor choices and have lost myself before in relationships. I’m not social. I like people pretty well but am so much better with dogs. I’m stubborn. Fortunately I have a few good friends who know me well and love me anyway. They keep me grounded, ask the hard questions, and yell at me if I isolate too much. I may never have the kind of love that Jo and Robert share, and that’s ok. I’m grateful to God that they have it and all the selfish thoughts are gone for good.

Recently while my brother and I were talking about our father, he brought up some thoughts about my previous relationships with men. He’s always conscious about being tactful (his sister should try to be more like him in that way) and he was afraid of being hurtful but sometimes when you see someone you love making bad decisions for a long enough period of time, the words you’ve held back just come tumbling out. I’m so glad he did. It was a relief for both of us and has brought us even closer together.

I have two brothers. Though we didn’t grow up together, we entered each others’ lives when we were supposed to and with Divine timing. They show their love in so many of the wonderful ways that brothers do- through their words, actions, and the examples they set- and I couldn’t be more thankful to have them in my life. In addition, they have both gone above and beyond in unique ways: one has promised to intervene if I become completely crazy (it’s a slippery slope) and the other has promised to pluck unwanted facial hair if I’m ever in a coma! Both vows are of high value and equal importance.

For My Co-workers…with love

I think about you when I get home at night. I see the ways you impact our patients’ lives and because of that you also greatly impact my own.  Your teamwork and clinical expertise inspire me, your kindness humbles me, and your great compassion often moves me to tears.  There are no words adequate enough to express the gratitude I have in my heart for each of you.

This is what I hear your patients say to you and about you:

  1. “You really care,”
  2. “I wasn’t always easy to be around. You showed me love anyway.”
  3. “I’ll never forget you.”
  4. “This isn’t just a job to you.”
  5. “You make a difference.”
  6. “I know I’m not your only patient, but you make me feel like I am.”
  7. “You explain everything to me in a way I can understand.”
  8. “You really listened to me. I knew something was wrong and you got me what I needed.”
  9. “You made my pain go away.”
  10. “I was scared. More scared than I’ve ever been before. You stayed with me. That made it better.”
  11. “You treat me like a real person, not just a patient. You make me laugh and that helps a lot.”
  12. “You’ll always be family to me.”
  13. “You saved my life. Thank you.”
  14. “I love you.”

Cutting the Crud

My stepdad asked recently how I spend my free time… Two days (on and off) kneeling on hard ceramic tile. Scrubbing grout. Woo-hoo. At first, I was pretty excited about finding a cleaning product that worked so well…now I don’t know if I ever want to see the stuff again!! To make the time pass faster, there was a crazy running monologue in my head. This is how it went:

Starting out: “Don’t go down on the bad knee first. Wait. Which one’s the bad one? OW! Yep, that’s the bad one. I can’t believe how fast this stuff is working. Holy moley, look at all that dirt coming up. That’s amazing. And gross. Really gross. But it’s quick. I’ll be done in no time.” Yeah right. “I didn’t think the grout would ever be this white again. I love this stuff! Ok, one square down. About 1827 more to go.” Slight exaggeration. “I have to pee. Too bad, not getting up. Don’t sneeze. Or cough. Coughing’s the worst. Keep scrubbing.”

About an hour later: “What is that on the bottom of the dishwasher? That’s disgusting.” Trying to reach the paper towels, I started pulling myself up holding on to the sink. Wet hands, wet feet… I slipped, on the way down hitting my chin on the counter, falling to my knee…the bad one. “Mother Hubbard!” (I didn’t say Hubbard.) “Are my teeth still there? Yep, think so. Chin’s bleeding a little. It’s ok. Don’t bleed on the grout. Keep scrubbing. If you gotta bleed, bleed on your shirt. Teeth are still there, chin hurts. Ok, kitchen’s done. We’re never walking in here again. The grout’s too white for that. Still gotta pee. Move to a dry part of the floor before you get up. If you hit your head, no one’s gonna find you. Until it’s time to go back to work and you never show up. Then they’ll come looking and you’ll be laying here and they’ll see the rest of the floor and the grout’s not done.”

A couple of hours later, after a pity party and a nap: “Ok, you’ve got this. Put on Pandora and get to work. Kitchen looks great. Gotta make the rest of the floor look like that. Keep scrubbing. Alright this is coming up pretty good. I love Van Morrison. We were born before the wind… (singing loudly)…Also younger than the sun… Keep scrubbing. Younger that the sun? I feel older than dirt. I wish I could sing. Oh I love this one. Lean on meeeee, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you caaaarrry on…This stuff really is amazing. The floor’s looking good. No, no, no….don‘t play Pink Floyd. I can’t stand Pink Floyd. Gotta change it.” (Crawls to the table where the computer is) “Lots of people like Pink Floyd. Is something wrong with me that I don’t? My brother likes their music. At least he likes the Eagles too so that’s something. Ok, that’s better. While I’m here, I should check my email… and I think I’ll finish watching that documentary on YouTube.”

An hour later…ok, two hours later…: “The floor’s not gonna scrub itself. That’s it, just finish the hallway tonight and do the rest tomorrow. Yep, that’s still the bad knee. This is really good stuff. I’m so glad I got it. Keep scrubbing. ‘I got one moooorre silver dolla, but I’m not gonna let em catch me, no. Not gonna let em catch the midnight riiiider.’ Keep scrubbing. Almost done. You missed a square. Dammit.”

Day two: “Make your coffee and finish this! You got it. Down ya go. One more room and you’re done. OW! That’s not even the bad knee. Start scrubbing. Keep going. I don’t care how good this stuff cleans, it’s from the devil. Who puts white ceramic tile in a house anyway? Well you bought the house, Einstein. Keep scrubbing. Yes, Pandora, I’m still listening and no you’re not playing to an empty room. ‘Tuesday’s gooooone, like the winnndd…’ Keep scrubbing…Floor’s done. But look at all that stuff under the bookshelves. You gotta get that. Maybe next time. Next time? You know that’s not gonna happen anytime soon. Get up, move the shelves…then there’s the light fixture… and the windows…

An eternity later: It’s all done. I’d take some ibuprofen but I’d have to walk in the kitchen to get water and the grout’s too clean.

How I Met My Brother-for Mike

“Ashleigh! Ashleigh, I just…You need to sit down. I just…I have to tell you something!” Hearing my mother’s excited tone over the phone and her struggle to put words together made me know it was something big. I’d barely said,”Ok,” when she blurted out, “I just talked…a man called here…I just…you have a brother!”

“I’d heard Dad had a son named Michael.” Though she’s never said so, I think it drives my mother crazy that I’ve always spoken slowly.

“What? What do you mean you heard your Dad had a son?! How could you know and not tell me?”

“I dunno…” (Brilliant answer) “I know he was married a few times, so I figured there were probably other kids. I asked Aunt Inez one day and she told me there was a man in Mississippi named Mike Carter who was said to be Dad’s son.”

“How long have you known about this?” Poor Mom. I was in nursing school at this time- I think I found out about Dad having a son when I was still in high school. I’d never told anyone.

“I dunno.” (More brilliance) “A few years maybe?” As a child, I was painfully/abnormally shy and quiet (to the point it was almost debilitating) around anyone except family, and was sometimes very quiet even around them. This lasted well into young adulthood, and as a result I was pretty adept at keeping others’ secrets.

With a short exasperated sigh, Mom went on to tell me all about the phone call and her excitement soon revved up again. After calling a few wrong numbers and getting redirects, Mike had phoned my mother. He’d been told that my mother used to be married to my dad, was divorced and remarried, and someone gave him my stepdad’s name. This was an age way before Google and Internet Explorer, so it definitely took determination and a bit of luck on Mike’s part to reach her.

Mike shared with her that he was at a point in his life where he wanted some information on his biological father; Mom was happy to give him all the information he requested (and more!) After a lengthy conversation, she asked him, “Did you know you have a sister? She would like to know about you.” (He actually had two, as Dad had also remarried and had another daughter.) He politely thanked her, but said he really didn’t want the contact to go any further. After assuring him that she would respect his privacy and not tell anyone, they ended their conversation. She immediately dialed my number.

The next afternoon after class, I called his office- luckily he had given that number to Mom…or more likely she finagled it out of him. I left my name and number, and it wasn’t long before the phone rang. My heart was racing so fast when I answered the phone! Though I don’t remember how the conversation started or even what we talked about, I know we spoke for a long time that day and the following ones.

After spending hours on the phone and exchanging letters and photos, we had developed trust. Since both of us were convinced the other was not an axe murderer, we decided to meet in person and Mike drove to Alabama to spend the weekend with me. Knowing I was nervous, my college roommate waited with me, providing both emotional support and comic relief. She has a big heart and was just as excited as I was to finally meet him. If Mike was nervous at all, he certainly didn’t show it and his calmness helped to calm me. We had a wonderful weekend and went to my Mom’s and stepdad’s house for dinner one night so they could meet him too.

“We didn’t plan the matching flannel shirts!”

It was probably a few months later when Mike and I went to Louisiana for him to meet our grandfather…both of us were nervous then and it showed. We got to town late that night and had to stop at three different motels, in the pouring rain, before finally finding one with an available room. We were both pretty tired and by then it didn’t matter (too much) that there was a flashing, partially broken hot pink and green neon sign outside shining through the broken window blinds, water was dripping from the shower head, or that we were kind of afraid to take our shoes off.

Mike waited until about 5:50am the next morning to wake me -Carter men like to get up early- and he did so with a giant cup of coffee in hand so we were able to remain friends. We decided the best strategy was for me to drive to the farm alone to tell Grandpa about Mike first since it was a surprise visit.

I sat with Grandpa, unsure how to begin, and finally said, “Dad has a son, Grandpa. His name is Mike, he’s here in town, and he wants to meet you.” Grandpa smiled, and then grinned. He got up and started pushing me toward the front door saying, “You go and get him, honey-bunch! Go get him right now. I want to meet him too!” I’ll never forget the smiles on the two men’s faces when they shook hands for the first time.


A couple of years later, I got married. Before the wedding, I called Dad and told him that Mike would be there. I felt it was the fair thing to do. Dad didn’t say anything yet still made plans to be there to give me away and to bring my little sister, Jordana, who was one of my bridesmaids. Leaving their meeting each other in Divine Hands, I didn’t give it a second thought until I heard my name being called at the reception. I turned around, and saw Mike, his wife Cissy, their daughter Catherine, Dad, and Jordana grouped together summoning me for a family photo! That was awesome.

Over the next months and years, Mike got to know his extended family and his father, and Dad experienced true peace, probably for the first time in his adult life.

I admire my brother’s courage for making those phone calls years ago, and am grateful to Mom for being too excited not to tell.

To the Little Girl with the Curly Hair-for Jennifer

Sometimes just hearing the voice of someone we love who loves us back can take away all our sadness and bring us “home” even if we’re miles away. That is what talking with my cousin Jennifer did for me a few days ago, and I’m forever grateful to her.

Growing up, I was blessed to have many cousins on my father’s side of the family. We came together for a few days every Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ farm- usually during the summers too- and those are some of the happiest memories I have. There were rides on the tractor, horse rides with uncles, and countless hours spent playing hide and seek in the big green barn.

Though I have younger cousins, and she and I are separated in age by less than a decade, Jennifer was the one I always thought of as my “little” cousin. Maybe it was because she was big enough to do some of the things that the ones my age could do, or maybe it was just because I liked having her around… she was my little cousin whom I loved and wanted so much to protect. And still do.

When my dad died, my sister Jordana was only a teenager, too young to lose a father. Jennifer and her sister Anne cared for my sister as if she were theirs. I remember they enveloped her, one on each side, whispering quietly to her as she cried and comforting her in a way that I couldn’t. It was a few years later that sweet, vibrant, funny, loving and loveable Joseph died. They were way too young to lose a brother.

Jennifer carries a Light within her that shines brightly, serving as a beacon for our family; during the times I’ve felt the most alone, she is the one I’ve sought. She loves others with her whole being, selflessly and sincerely, and with compassion and understanding. She comforts others when they have sorrow, and genuinely shares their joy when they are happy. She ends every conversation with “Love you,” and she means it.

When she was a very little girl, she had an incredible sweetness and purity about her. I always thought time would take that from her- I was wrong. If anything, those traits have grown stronger. I remember years ago when her family came into town (I think for a wedding); she ran into my aunt’s home, a tiny girl with curls bouncing, and into everyone’s arms one by one to give great big hugs. My cousin John and I adored her.

Jen, my sweet little cousin…how did it happen that you became my rock, my protector? I am so thankful to you for being in my life. Love you.

The Reason-for Austin

For the past 18 years, my son has found a Hot Wheels car in his stocking every Christmas morning. I don’t think I ever told him why…until now.

As it does for many of us, decorating the Christmas tree and looking at all the ornaments collected through the years brings forth so much nostalgia; there are my favorite handmade ones from my son Austin, old ones from my grade school classmates, ones Austin and I bought on vacations we took together (Mom and I started that tradition many years ago when we’d go on trips), some from my childhood, and many given as gifts by cherished family. There’s one from the wife of a patient who died –she gave it to me as thanks for caring for her husband- and another from the first new nurse I mentored. One of the ornaments I treasure is a hand-blown glass angel from Copenhagen. Mom took me there when I was a teenager and we bought matching angels. Some years later, when I moved out on my own, my mother packed up all the ornaments she’d collected for me through the years so that I could have them for my own tree. Despite her careful and gentle packaging, I somehow managed to break off the tip of one wing. For years, I’d position her on the tree so that no one could see the flaw. As I got older, that changed. The beautiful angel now takes her place front and center on the tree and is a reminder that sometimes we are stronger because our wings are a little broken.

But back to the point- I’m always painfully slow getting to one… thinking about Christmas brought me back to the one when Austin had just turned four. We went to the mall to have his picture taken with Santa. It seemed as if we were in line forever, his warm little hand in mine, and I wondered if he’d be ok sitting on Santa’s knee by himself-historically, that had not been the case! He did it, photos were successfully snapped, and he ran back to me afterwards with a big proud grin.

As he gave me a huge hug, I asked him what he told Santa he wanted for Christmas. He said in the earnest way only small children do, “A hot wheels car, a blue cereal bowl…and earrings for you, Mommy.” The look of pure joy on his face when there were earrings for his Mom Christmas morning was unforgettable. The blue cereal bowl, too cracked by now for use, is carefully tucked away, there has been a Hot Wheels car in his stocking every year since, and he still has the same unselfish spirit he had when he was a young boy.broken-wings

The Cumulative Effect-for Jeff

Our hospital chaplain and I were talking earlier that morning about the effect seeing human suffering has on caregivers. Over time, it can change a person; seeing so much pain, fear, and death wears you down to the point that even the most joyous times (like watching a patient you never expected to make it walk out of the hospital) are just a little less fulfilling. Fortunately, for most of us, these feelings are cyclical. The pain subsides, the joy returns, and we go on…but you have to wonder about the cumulative effect. Who would we be if we didn’t witness all the suffering?

Yesterday one of our patients died. We tried to save her and we couldn’t. Every single time we have a code, I hope that it will be the last one I ever see…odds are it won’t be.

I was on the opposite end of the unit with a couple of the other nurses when we heard the code alarm. We rushed to the patient’s room where someone opening the code cart and CPR was in progress. As I took over chest compressions (I’m usually the one in that role first just because I’m tall), I thought of the many times I’ve had my hands on someone’s chest doing those same compressions and I prayed for the lady’s heart to start beating again on its own. It didn’t.

As charge nurse, by default I have to be the nurse leader during a code until we have a designated physician leader present; I don’t want to be the leader. It’s usually for only a couple of minutes but it feels like forever. I have to make sure someone is manning the cart and defibrillator, someone else is getting defibrillator pads on the patient, that we have working IVs, someone is recording, we have a backboard under the patient, and that someone is getting the meds ready.

When one of the young doctors took over compressions, I helped a nurse ventilate the patient while the anesthesia MD was preparing to intubate. I saw the panic in her face as she struggled with the ambu-bag initially then the relief as she got it right and heard me say, “Yes, sweetheart, just like that.” I’ve been in codes where people yell and it never helps anyone.

Real-life codes are not like the ones depicted on television. We are jammed together tightly around the patient and we are covered in sweat that is not just our own. Regardless of the outcome, everyone is shaken at the end of a code and there are some tears shed. We take it personally when a patient dies.

Dr. S was our physician leader; not only did he run the code perfectly, he was very calm and set the tone for everyone else. We gave numerous rounds of meds and performed CPR continuously. Everyone in that room worked hard to save the lady’s life. Several times, Dr. S had four of us do a final pulse check before he “called” the code; if one of us even thought we felt a pulse, we began the whole cycle again. After 46 minutes, there was nothing. He had to announce the time of death and one family was changed forever.

While we prepared for the patient’s family to see her, our chaplain met with her sons. I see death only occasionally; he shares others’ grief weekly- not just the patients and their families, but also our staff. Afterward, he updated me on the family while I was charting, then said he wanted to check on the nurse whose patient had just died one last time. As I watched him take the lonely walk down the then eerily quiet hallway, I thought to myself “But who’s gonna check on you, buddy?”

Please don’t ask me to cut my hair


Beauty is something we women obsess over, cry about, and feel that we can never achieve. Because of our own insecurities, we find ourselves inadvertently bringing other women down with us, thereby fulfilling the old saying, “Misery loves company.” This is not an intentional act, but rather something that has been handed down to us from generation to generation. It is way past time to stop. We have been programmed since early childhood to “know” what a beautiful woman looks like. Madison Avenue tells us she should be tall, very thin, have long legs, porcelain skin, etc. The message is that women who look like this will be desired by all and will achieve ultimate happiness and women who don’t are out of luck.

Here’s the deal…We all want to be happy and we all want to be desired. How many of us as very little girls twirled in our dresses wanting to be seen as beautiful? How many of us pretended we were a princess waiting for our Prince Charming? How many of us fantasized that we were the heroine of a story… beautiful, strong, and irreplaceable? I think the answer is that a lot of us did. So despite having grown into rational, clear-thinking adults, we are still influenced by past perceptions and hurts. Perhaps our fathers called us plain, or our brothers criticized our choice of dress. Maybe we were teased in school for being the ‘ugly duckling’. Our mothers may have been critical of our bodies, pushing us to lose weight for our “own good” so that we could “be happy.” Every woman has at least one story to tell, and most of us have several that have stuck with us for many years, and can still bring tears to our eyes.

We work toward achieving the image of beauty that has been burned into our minds and our very psyche, constantly striving and continually disappointed. Some of us live in despair knowing we will never obtain the perfection we are looking for, while others are just as frustrated seeing how close they are and thinking, “If I could just do a little more, then I would be happy.” Have you ever been witness to a conversation between two women who are good friends? Often it turns to the dissatisfaction over their bodies. You will hear one saying, “I only ate 500 calories all day yesterday, and I worked out for three straight hours.” The other will nod in commiseration, saying, “If I could just lose five more pounds, life would be good.”On and on this goes, as they discuss their self-hatred. It is such a sad thing to witness, and I certainly have been guilty of this same behavior. These are women who truly care about each other, yet instead of lifting each other up, they bring each other down in their battle for perfection. Certainly this is not what our Creator wants for us. He has decorated the world with His beauty:

Psa 93:1 The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty:

Surely He has made us beautiful as well.

Psa 45:2 (45:3) Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee forever.

We spend countless hours and not an insignificant amount of money viewing information to make us feel bad about the way that we look. We watch TV shows and read magazines that tell us how we should dress, i.e. make your hips look smaller if you are pear-shaped or fuller if you are an apple shape (why is it ok with us to be compared to fruit?), dress to minimize your derriere or maximize it if it is too small, hide your full bust or enhance your small breasts, etc. In short, the message is that we should all strive for the same “perfect” body. Why should all women try to look the same? It seems we should rejoice in our diversity, each of us recognizing our own beauty that is a gift from God.

Women with pure intentions give their friends the same advice that they themselves have received from other women. They desire the best for their friends and want them to be happy, so they advise their friends on how to dress, on how to wear their hair (hence the reason for the title), and on how to do their make-up. Often, this advice, though it is given with love, has the opposite effect from what was intended. Instead of making us feel better about how we look, we feel worse knowing we have failed miserably in the area of “beauty.”

I have long hair; I like it that way and intend to keep it long. End of story. I have received numerous negative and unsolicited comments about my hair from other women, some who love me and some who don’t. Here are a few:

“Your hair is long.” My reply is usually, “Yes, it’s long.”

“Your hair is too long.” “What is the right length?”

“You should cut your hair.” “Why?” “Because it is too long.” See above.

“You would look better with short hair.” “Really?”

“Your hair is long. Are you gonna donate it to Locks of Love?” “No, I think I’ll keep it.”

And my all-time favorite (usually said with a self-righteous smirk), “You know, after a certain age, women should not wear their hair long.” “Who says?”

There has never once been a man who has advised me to cut my hair.

Why do we women do this to each other? It is a spirit of unrest, which does not come from our Father. There are always two forces at work, and Satan tries to destroy us by creating our fears and then preying upon them as he did with Eve. Life is brought forth from God through us when we give birth; Satan can bring only death. Isn’t it clear why he hates us? He is the one who brings us fear. In the Bible, whenever angels appeared to men, the first words they uttered were, “Fear not.” Instructions regarding fear are present in the Gospels as well, these being just two examples:

Luk 1:74 That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear;

Luk 12:32 Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom.

Mankind is drawn to beauty and through it we get glimpses of God’s glory. Who has not had his or her breath taken away by an awesome sunset where the sky is painted with deep shades of purple, pink, red, and orange? I believe that God created woman to be beautiful for men to be drawn to Him through her beauty. So, of course Satan will try to make us feel that we don’t have beauty. He certainly wants to keep man from moving towards God.

We have received instruction regarding concerns that we are ‘not enough,’ whether it be not smart enough, beautiful enough, or so on.

Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. Mat 10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31 Fear not therefore: better are you than many sparrows.

I think of women I have been around, some of whom are from cultures different from my own, who are able to see the beauty (outward and inward) that they and their friends possess; they are a joy to be with because they are relaxed and at peace. Instead of striving in discontent, they have happiness which shines from their souls reaching their countenances. They enjoy each other simply for who they are rather than sharing unhappiness and personal dissatisfaction. How refreshing! Have you ever met someone who, at first glance, is not physically attractive, but once you got to know that person, you viewed them as gorgeous? And conversely, someone with great physical beauty that became completely unattractive once their spirit was revealed? Let us all stop the striving for the cookie-cutter beauty that Hollywood dictates we must achieve, and recognize the gifts that God has given us. Oh…and please don’t ask me to cut my hair.