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  • Writer's picture Gabrielle Elise Jimenez

"I feel soft"

Several years ago, I walked the Camino in Spain. After a long day and a lot of miles I came across a fork in the road and wasn’t sure which way I was supposed to go. A man appeared, truly out of nowhere, and pointed me in the right direction. He looked right into my eyes, as if he knew me personally, and said, “you care for people who are dying.” I didn’t ask him how he knew that, it didn’t seem important at the time. I said, “yes… I am a hospice nurse.” He smiled and said, “you place the pillow under their head that helps to make their landing softer.” This took me by surprise, as I had just started writing my first book, “Soft Landing.” I heard a noise behind me and turned around to see what it was, but nothing was there, and when I turned back toward him, he was gone. It was as though he had just disappeared. To this day I still can’t help but wonder if he was ever actually there at all, assuming that perhaps this was just some more Camino magic.

 

My goal from day one of choosing to help support people who are dying, was to make sure that they always felt cared for and supported, and that their landing would be soft. I think all human beings deserve that and I have never wavered from this kind of heart-centered care. A soft landing to me is finding a way to relieve someone of the suffering they are experiencing when they are dying. This can be emotional, spiritual, or mental as well as physical suffering. I cannot promise more time for people who are dying, but I do my best to provide some sense of comfort, offering them a better quality of life in whatever time they have been gifted. I can’t always promise that though either, which I struggle with. I have learned the importance of meeting someone where they are, not where I want them to be. A soft landing can often be provided simply by letting someone know they have been seen and heard and by honoring their wishes.

 

I was with a woman who recently exercised her legal right to take the Medical Aid in Dying medications. She had been suffering with intense pain for several years and tried everything she possibly could to find relief, but the pain became too much for her. I have witnessed a lot of suffering in my career, but hers was by far the worst.

 

She did not want to die, she wanted to live longer, and she wanted more time. She knew that Medical Aid in Dying was an option, but she told me several times, “I am not ready for that yet,” which I respected. When she told me she was ready, in many ways I felt defeated because I could not bring her the comfort she deserved. She told me, “you never walked away Gabby. You were always by my side, listening to me, supporting me, and showing me respect, and today you are honoring my wishes and that means everything to me. You did more for me than you know.”  These words will stay tucked in my heart forever.

 

After she took the medications, and minutes before she became unconscious, I asked her how she was feeling. She looked at me and said, “I feel soft.” We had about four minutes together after she said that… the longest four minutes of my life. I asked her to tell me what that meant.

She said…

“I have been in pain for so long, that I became used to it. The sharp edges of the pain cut me deeply every time I moved making me wonder if I would ever know what it would be like to not be in pain. Right now, the edges have softened and the most beautiful gift of all has been given to me. I do not feel pain. I get to leave this life knowing what that feels like. The sharp edges feel soft, everything feels soft. And I feel free.” And then she said, “thank you.” She closed her eyes, she went into a very deep sleep, and a few hours later she took her last breath.

 

When I first became a hospice nurse so many years ago, I used the words “Soft Landing” to represent the kind of care that I feel all human beings deserve. It made sense to me, but until this recent experience, it had never been put into words for me. A soft landing is letting another human being know that they are not alone, that they have been heard, that we will not walk away, that we will make every effort to relieve them of any discomfort, and that we will honor their wishes… whatever they might be. I know now that I have been doing that all along.

 

From my book “Soft Landing,” When I first meet a family, I tell them that I can’t change the outcome, I can’t make their loved one better, and I can’t heal them, but I can promise them that I will make every effort to ensure they are comfortable, that their pain is relieved, that they do not suffer, and that they never die alone. This is a promise I strive to keep with every single person I have the honor of caring for. I take their hands in mine, I look them straight in the eyes, I gently wrap my heart around theirs, and I assure them that I will do my best to provide them with a soft landing.

 

xo

Gabby

 

You can find my first book “Soft Landing” here: https://a.co/d/0chmwaMM

To learn more about Medical Aid in Dying, you might find my book "Dignity Day" a helpful introduction: https://a.co/d/0bE8AfqY




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