by Dr. Tina Marcantel
On a recent trip to the beach I enjoyed an early morning walk to search out the treasures the Sea of Cortez had left with the receding tide. I love “shelling” and I was excited to find on this particular morning an angel wing shell. As I studied its delicate beauty I was reminded of a story I heard from a friend many years ago when I lived in Galveston, Texas.
Jenna, a nurse colleague of mine, spent many years as a hospice care provider. As you can imagine, the profession of attending and comforting the dying day-in and day-out can take an emotional toll. At the end of a long night shift Jenna would often unwind by stopping on her way home to walk the beaches of Galveston Island to look for shells.
One day as we were trading nursing stories I remarked to Jenna that it must be difficult to deal with the subject of death when talking with her patients. She said that different ones handled it in different ways, but that part of her job was to help them prepare for the transition. As an example, she told me the story of Allen, a cancer patient she had cared for.
Jenna said that she could sense fear in Allen’s demeanor as he became increasingly weaker. One night as she sat by his bed she told him about the shells she had found on the beach that morning—a routine story he enjoyed hearing since he was unable to visit the beach himself anymore. On this night, though, she was inspired to add something. “Allen,” she said, “you know I love angel wing shells. It seems like all I find is the left half of the shell, though. When you get to heaven will you ask God to allow one of the angels to drop a right wing for me?” Allen looked steadily at her and then a smile spread across his lips and he nodded. Jenna told me that she believed that it was that moment when Allen knew that everything would be okay for him. The request gave him hope of the reality of walking into his eternal home.
I have such tremendous respect and appreciation for those working in the hospice care system. Not only do they provide the necessary medical care for their patients, I have also seen the Divine working through these Earth angels as they share their kindness and compassion with people who most need it. I’ve witnessed it many times in my tenure as a home health nurse and now as a doctor. I also saw it in the love and compassion shown to my own mother as she reached the end of her days in this life.
As you may have guessed, there’s more to Jenna’s story. Allen died within a couple of weeks of that night. It was some time later that Jenna found the right angel wing shell on the beach, and it was a few days after the discovery that she made the connection to her former patient. When she did, she took it as confirmation of the work she was doing. And she knew whom to thank for her new treasure.
Do you know a hospice worker or someone who has experienced their care?
If so, I encourage you to pass this on to them.