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Brenda's Story

Updated: Feb 27

I know we're told not to get too close to our patients, but there are some we just have a special connection with. Val was a favorite patient on the palliative care unit where I worked; she was the happiest, most positive person I'd ever known. No matter what, she was always upbeat, despite the fact that she knew she was dying.

a photo of yellow buttercups

As her health deteriorated, instead of helping her into the bathroom so that she could bathe herself, it became necessary for me to bathe her in bed. But rather than be upset, Val simply saw it as more time for us to visit.

I told her about the new house I was moving into, and she asked to see pictures. We'd become friends.

Even on the days she wasn't assigned to me, I always made a point to stick my head in her room and say "hello."

One time, as I gave her a quick hug, she whispered in my ear, "Don't tell the others, but you're one of my favorite nurses." I whispered back, "Don't tell anyone, but you're one of my favorite patients."

Days later when I was bathing her, we spoke on a more serious note. Val said, "Now that I've gotten a bit better, I'm planning to go back to my retirement home." I joked with her, "Are you getting tired of me already?" She smiled, "No, but it's time to go home for a while. I know I'll be back again, and I won't be leaving the next time. At least not for the retirement home."

There was silence. We both knew it was the truth.

"When you do come back," I said, "you may not know me or be conscious, but I know you and promise to take extra special care of you."

I visited her at the retirement home, she'd lost all her hair and was wearing a wig, but she was the same cheerful Val. We talked for a while, then she got tired, and it was time for me to leave. "Next time you come," she said, "we'll have a glass of wine in the bar. No sense living in a swanky place if you can't have a drink or two with a friend!"

Unfortunately, before we could have that drink, Val returned to the palliative care unit. My shift had ended, but just as I was about to leave, I saw her lying on a stretcher without her wig. I went to her and held her hand. A smile creased her face. "I remember your promise to take special care of me and I'm holding you to it!" I squeezed her hand to show that I remembered too.

Over the next few weeks, Val's condition grew worse. One day, as I was bathing her, I asked, "If you could be reincarnated as something, what would you want to be?"

She replied instantly, "A buttercup."

"Not a rose?" I said. "Too showy," she replied. "Definitely a buttercup."

A few days later, Val became unconscious and died quietly shortly thereafter.

As I pulled into the driveway of my new home that evening, my newly acquired garden caught my eye. I noticed purple irises were blooming, and then, as I looked closer, there amid the other plants I saw a splash of yellow. A buttercup.

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