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Changing The World One Story At A Time

I am a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and as such I get to be a part of incredible groups of professionals sharing their expertise and mentorship with me and others. I am part of mastermind group on storytelling and the power of stories.

This week we were tasked with bringing a personal story that said something about who we are and why we do what we do. We had 3 minutes to present it; this is my story.

When I was 24, I had the opportunity to work in palliative care on a project related to my master’s degree; both loneliness and play touched me deeply here. On the first day, I came in ready to put all my “skills” to work, but the nurses put me on bread duty…My inexperience and youth shone brightly as I asked if I could do something in "greater connection" to my skills. To my surprise, the nurses informed me it was one of the most critical roles on the floor.

They told me how making bread in the bread maker and putting the fan on made the hallways smell of freshly baked bread, which allowed many residents to disconnect from the hospital’s scent and from dying. The hallways were usually quiet as people did not often have family that came to visit. My “ job” was to decrease the emptiness and fill it with connection through the sense of smell.

One of my greatest life lessons happened when she came to the floor.I was at the desk when a woman in her 50's wheeled up to my side to check-in. She introduced herself by saying, “I’m Rose, and I am not coming here to die”. I politely agreed with her optimism and led her to her room where she dropped her bags and said, “Time to go shopping.I love a good gift shop!” So, we wheeled down to the hospital gift shop and, en route, she informed me that she had stage four stomach cancer but felt highly optimistic that she would beat it. Her daughter’s wedding was in two weeks, and she was attending no matter what!

We toured the gift shop, played with all of the stuffed animals, and made the puppets come alive, but she still did not find what she was looking for. She wanted frames, and she wanted to paint them.

We spent the whole day together. She couldn’t eat the bread I had made but still insisted that I bring her some to smell, full of butter. Her humour and confidence completely enraptured me. At the end of the day, I offered to go to our local craft store to buy frames and bring them the next time I was at the hospital.She gave strict orders for colours and paint and a gift bag with handles so she could carry it herself.

I returned after the weekend, bags full of supplies in case I didn’t have it just right, looking forward to a day of paint and play. A nurse stopped me at the desk to tell me that Rose had fallen into a coma over the weekend. I began to cry and put the supplies away, but she stopped me in my tracks.

“What are you doing? Weren’t you going to paint the frames with Rose today?” she asked.
“I was,” I replied, “but now we can’t.”

She took my hand and the supplies and walked me into Rose’s room, pulled up a chair, and said, “She can hear everything you say and do, so don’t mess it up,” and left the room with a smile.

I spent most of the morning painting and talking Rose through each step. The nurses that day taught me that our work doesn’t change just because the response changes, that the loneliness in silence is deafening. With wet picture frames on her window sill, and the gift bag ready to create, a nurse came into the room to check on Rose. She asked if I would like to help turn her and, as we did, we spoke to Rose and asked permission. The nurse warned me that sometimes people pass away when we move them, and that’s just what Rose did.

Surround yourself with people who will hold your hand and paint the frames no matter what.

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