The Beautiful Woman in the Rose Garden
I shared a story recently about a woman I noticed as I was driving to see a patient; she was in her rose garden and looked weak and unsteady. I turned around and went back to her to see if she needed any help. I ended up spending some time with her, because moments before I had arrived, before she walked out to her garden to cut some roses, she was given the news that her cancer had spread, and she had very little time left. Although not surprised, the news knocked the wind out of her. I stayed because she wanted someone to talk to, and because I wanted to talk to her.
She apologized for not being “peppier,” suggesting I wished I hadn’t pulled over. I explained the work I do as a hospice nurse and an end-of-life doula, letting her know that these conversations do not scare me away, in fact quite the contrary I told her, as they tend to draw me in. I found myself wanting to know more about her, her diagnosis and how I can possibly help even if it just means sitting with her and listening. So we talked. And I listened. And I let her know she had been heard.
She loved the idea of an end-of-life doula and wanted one of her very own. Her daughter was coming to stay with her soon and she wanted to be able to set up a plan for her death, before she arrived. I offered to help choreograph her last few months, or weeks (or less) in a way that would honor her wishes and it could be on her terms. She liked this. “Let’s choreograph my last dance,” she said. I told her I would come back over the weekend, and we could chat. I called her daughter just to make sure she was okay with our plan, and I think she felt some relief, as she admittedly was not prepared for any of this, she just knew she needed to come, and soon.
A few days later I arrived at her home. She said she had roses for me and she made me some tea. She was lovely, and she was funny and very sassy… I imagined that in her younger days she was a force to be reckoned with, as she did not mince words and said whatever was on her mind. I liked that about her. We talked about the music she wanted played, which was Jazz, and I offered to make her a playlist. “Be sure that you add Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie on there too… they are my favorites.” I told her I would. She repeated their names again in case I forgot. She wanted to be in her bed with a view of her garden, with all of her fluffy down pillows, and the comforter her sister made her twenty-five years ago, wrapped tightly around her like a hug. We looked at all of her framed photos and she selected which ones she wanted at her bedside.
We talked for almost five hours. She confided in me that she knew months ago that she was dying, she just chose not to deal with it until now. The call she had received from the doctor was just the impending date on the calendar, notifying her of the timeframe she had, which she believed was weeks, although she assumed much less. Her daughter coming was a blessing, as she wanted a chance to say goodbye, but she was ready, and she most definitely was not afraid. “I have had a good life,” she said… proceeding to tell me about the many men she loved and the ones that got away, the places she traveled to, the friendships and memories she made over the years, and she very clearly said, “I have done everything I ever wanted to do, I have no regrets.” Which is exactly what I want to be able to say when it is my time to go.
We had a FaceTime call with her daughter and shared everything we had talked about. Her daughter was sad, she cried often during our call, but she was happy I was there, that I had become her mother’s new friend, and that she was going to be there soon, to honor her mother’s wishes. This was important to her, “she was the best mom ever, I want to care for her as well as she cared for me.” I told her we would make sure of it.
Just before I left that day, she sent me off with a big bouquet of fresh roses from her garden, which she told me was a gift, “from me to my new friend Gabby.” This made me smile.
That night I wrote everything down for her daughter; all of her mom's wishes, all of her special things she wanted close by, and some suggestions I thought might help her daughter, who had never cared for someone who was dying and had no idea what to do. I also made a really great playlist of songs, creating it on "Spotify." I assured her I would be there to help in any way that I could, and I sent it all to her in an email.
I spoke to my new friend every day on the phone, just to check in. Her daughter had arrived, and they spent their first few days in the garden, drinking tea, and sharing last moments together, which were precious and special for them both. I visited with them one day, she was noticeably weaker, this happened so fast, and she was spending most of the time in her bed. I was pleased to see they had moved her bed by the window facing the garden, her pillows were plenty and fluffy just like she wanted, the quilt was wrapped snuggly around her, and jazz was playing softly in the background. I smiled knowing that we truly did choreograph her best last few days, and her wishes were being honored. Before I left that day, I said my goodbyes. She laughed and said, “this might be the last one.” I gave her an extra hug just in case, and made it the best hug… She smiled at me, and said, “now aren’t you glad you pulled over that day?” I smiled back, and said, “yes… I will always be glad I pulled over to rescue the beautiful woman in the rose garden.” I could hear her giggling as I walked out of her room. That was the last time I saw her.
I walked in the door last night and noticed that many of the petals of the roses she had given me had fallen and scattered all over my table. They had been threatening to do that for a few days now, but they just seemed to hold on. It took my breath away and somehow, I knew that she had died. I sat on the couch with my phone in my hand, frightened to call. I knew the answer. With every ounce of my being, I knew the answer. And then the phone rang, and it was her daughter, she said, “Gabby, mom has died.” I said, “I know.” And we talked for a few more minutes. She told her daughter she wanted to nap and asked her to turn the volume of the playlist I had made her, "up a notch," and then passed peacefully in her sleep.
Because of her I am reminded that I want to live a life where I do everything I want to do, that I am surrounded by people who love me, and that my wishes are honored when that time comes near. I will keep vases of roses on my table, allowing them to stay until every petal has fallen… and I will think of her… the beautiful woman in the rose garden who allowed me to choregraph her very last dance.
The playlist is available to listen to on Spotify under: The Beautiful Woman in the Rose Garden
For information about the work I do, the classes I teach or my book, which was recently published, please visit my website, as everything is posted there. Thank you xo