She had always wanted to be a nurse and why she chose the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to graduate and start work will remain a mystery only to be unveiled hopefully in her lifetime. But maybe she won’t have to wait too long to unravel that personal enigma.
Carl was her very first patient on the floor and no one could have asked for a more cooperative, compliant, and friendly man who, with his lovely wife, were so good to her.
She came to work on this mid-December week just a little perturbed because of the wreck on the freeway, more rude drivers, and the fact that her stomach was growling louder than a den of bears about to wake from hibernation caused by the unavoidable lack of time for breakfast. She rushed into the breakroom where most of the other nurses gathered and tried to start that first cup of cinnamon spice coffee that always seemed to jumpstart the morning for her while she shot a glance over to the bulletin board where people posted cars for sale, apartments for rent, and other sundry items including newspaper clippings featuring obituaries of the famous and not-so-famous, among them, at times, some of the former patients on their floor. Her eyes panned the selections and with a little shock in a gentle gasp, she spotted the obituary for her friend and patient Carl:
“The Angels came on December 1, 2020 to escort Carl to the Gates of Heaven to be with his Lord and Savior. He will be remembered for always having a smile on his face and looking for ways to make people laugh. He never met a stranger and is loved by everyone who met him.”
“‘Yup,’ she thought, that’s right on. I wonder how his wife is doing.” Her thoughts catapulted her back just ten days earlier when, on her day off, with a few other nurse friends who were involved with hospice, decided to drop by the RV Community Park to visit with Carl and his wife. She remembered the scene quite well and recalled how everything was decorated for Christmas especially the comfortable and well illuminated bedroom where Carl lay with Christmas lights and decorations everywhere. There was literally no corner without something flashing, glowing, or shouting, “Merry Christmas!” She recalled a comment she heard in reference to how one of her teachers loved this season and made it clear by the way he adorned every nook and cranny with festive adornment: “If Santa Clause had a house, this is what it would look like!” She also recalled that one white Christmas tree strewn with red lights and all-red ornaments that looked like a giant peppermint cane. Carl was profoundly and keenly proud of the ornament that lay atop the tree: a large, red bulb with his and his wife’s name on it with the name JESUS in large glittered- applique right in the middle of them.
She also recalled one of her last conversations with Carl. She remembered how he was afraid to die understandably as anyone would have some trepidation about what the next few seconds will present after we take our last breath. For some strange reason, at least in her thinking, Carl was actually doubting his welcome into Paradise. Was there something he needed to reveal, confess, or otherwise release from his heart before it was time to go? From what he told her and the others, which was clearly corroborated by his family and closest friends, Carl had lived a very full, generous, and happy life. Perhaps he was just scared of the unknown and so the kind nurse said what instinctively came into her heart: “The good news is, Carl, is that you passed everything. You passed! Did you hear me? All you have to do now is wait for graduation. Just think of it!” He seemed to find great solace in those words and never asked about it again.
A few days later, she went to see him on a windy, sunny, Sunday afternoon and it was clear that the end was near. “What day is it?’ he asked her. “It’s Sunday, Carl,” she responded. “Can you read some Scripture for me? What is the Gospel for today?” he implored.
The young nurse scrambled with her phone and remembered how her parish priest had published the readings for each day of the year and she quickly found the ones for Sunday. She read slowly and deliberately from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
“Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’”
It would be the last sermon Carl would ever hear on this earth. He motioned to his wife that he wanted to sit up one last time and with the help of the other visiting nurses, he did, ever so delicately and gingerly to give his wife one last hug before lowering himself with their help back down into his bed where he took a nap and never woke up again. He had understood and had finally graduated into Eternal Life.
At his wake service, the kind nurses and the staff at his wife’s workplace put together a different kind of eulogy. They wanted everyone to hear/read the last sermon Carl had so passionately requested concerning the five talents distributed to all by God. Here is what they dispersed:
EYES – the gift of sight.
Think of the ability to see and comprehend the world around us and God’s presence in it.
EARS – the gift of listening.
Think of the ability to remain quiet in front of a sunrise or sunset, a friend who is telling us about their day and life, and before God in prayer.
NOSE – the gift of smell.
Think of the ability to appreciate the fragrance of this created world and be soothed by the texture of nature’s aroma.
MOUTH – the gift of speech.
Think of the ability to communicate and heal with words that are formed in your mind and expressed with your heart.
TOUCH – our effect on others.
Think of how wonderful it is to be held, to accept the congratulatory handshake or the firm and reassuring pat on the back. Good touches warm the heart.
Before everyone went their separate ways, Carl’s wife of forty-five years unexpectedly and uncharacteristically stood up to say a few closing words. She explained that none of us can bury these talents any more than we can hide from the expectations that are thrust upon us. The lessons are irrefutable. Success, especially when reflected upon at the end of one’s life, is a product of our work. God always gives us everything we need to do what He has called us to do. In the mystery of this awesome human life, we are not all created equally with the same gifts and talents. None of us can render judgment on another. We work for the Master, not our own selfish purposes, and because of that fundamental and critical reason, we will all be held accountable.
“Merry Christmas, everybody! “she called out with tears in her eyes. “It’s time to finish the masterpiece!”
Carl had in fact graduated and it was time to celebrate into silent nights of comfort and joy.Share your thoughts (26 thoughts)