Just a little over a year ago, a co-worker and fellow hospice nurse took her own life. The state of shock didn’t begin to wear off for several weeks. At one of the IDTs, we remembered her amidst the silence, amidst the tears that could have filled buckets.
At another IDT/remembrance, we were given the opportunity to take a small stone from a bowl full of them, and either add it to an office fountain, keep it, or find another way to remember her with it. There were white stones, sand colored stones, gray stones, clear stones. Not consciously thinking about it, my fingers absentmindedly picked out a black stone. I don’t know why I chose a black stone. That little black stone with a smooth finish, almost slick. Nearly flat, with a triangular shape, not shiny, but more of a matte finish. Maybe I chose black, as a perfect representation of the sorrow and darkness she must have felt, or of the sorrow that blanketed the meeting room that day when the air in the room felt deprived of oxygen, so heavy no one could breathe let alone speak.
I’ve had this little black stone since that time, put away for the day when it was time to take it to her last known area and add it to the surroundings. On the actual day of the one year mark, I took time to think about her, how smart she was, how beautiful and radiant her face and smile were when she was happy (especially when her rescue pups were with her). Unfortunately, that one year mark was also the day we put our dog down. So giving myself some time in between, today was the day to deliver that little black stone.
Her last location happens to be my favorite spot on earth, the place where I want my ashes spread after I’ve died, and almost exactly where I’ve envisioned my ashes will be spread to the wind. It was the first place I explored when we moved to Colorado 23 years ago and is my “go to” place when the mountains are calling. Given all these factors, it made it that much harder knowing my co-worker was not at peace there, with the majestic views and the mountains all around. Or maybe she did finally find peace. I pray she did.
These remembrances, memorials, goodbyes, rituals, whatever you choose to call them can occur prior to death, as someone is dying, right afterwards, or at a later time. There are no right answers because everyone handles grief differently and with different timing. Literally, sometimes it feels as though it is two steps forward and three steps back but the point is to keep moving towards accepting and acknowledging that loss.
At the hospice where I trained, there was a memorial tree where families could add a leaf to the tree with their loved one’s name on it. Usually, hospices, and now Social Model Hospice Houses, have annual remembrance times (candle lighting, tree lighting) where the names of those that have died in their care are read aloud. What a perfect way to honor someone, just by saying their name out loud. In one or two words, you are acknowledging that they lived, that they were a part of this sometimes chaotic process we call life, and that they remain a part of your story going forward.