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  • Writer's picture Gabrielle Elise Jimenez

The red heart text message

Every morning for the past eight weeks, I have sent a text message to a woman whose husband passed away. It started as one red heart, which is something I have been doing since I became a hospice nurse. It is not every time, but some times… many times… I make a connection, especially in those last few days and hours when I share the bedside with someone saying goodbye. I know that the next day when that wife, or mother, or father, or brother or sister wakes up and comes to terms with what happened the day before, they will feel ache… an ache that becomes a permanent tattoo for the rest of their lives. So I send a red heart text message, just reminding them that I am still holding space in my heart for them.

The moments we share with a loved one at the bedside are never forgotten, by them or by us. We continue moving forward, to the next patient and the next family, but they are still going to wake up every single morning trying desperately to figure out how to navigate the rest of their lives. Because even though they knew how things would play out, and that death was near, it does not matter how prepared you are... when those last breaths are taken, it is as though you are finding out for the very first time that someone you love is going to die. And that hurts.

So for some of the ones I have made a connection with, the next morning I send them a text message with one red heart. Sometimes I get a wonderful message back, thanking me for being there, suggesting one day we meet for coffee or a walk. Sometimes it is a sad face and questions of how they will get through their next days and I encourage them to reach out for comfort from friends or family, or a bereavement counselor, because I can tell they need more. Sometimes I never get anything back and that is okay because I was there when they needed me and that is enough for me.

But sometimes, like with this particular wife who lost her husband of 69 years, the heart turned into flowers, and then short words of encouragement turned into lengthy texts back telling me each struggle she was facing and how hard this has been for her. Usually it is just one text a day. As I hoped to hug her heart just a little each day, I soon realized she was hugging mine too.

Yesterday she was the first one to send the message… it was a red heart text. Another message followed, “I am doing better today, I feel like I can breathe a little easier, I am going to go walk with a friend”. I wrote back and told her how happy this made me feel. And then she wrote, “thank you for reaching out to me every day, I have grown very fond of our daily texts messages, in fact I counted on them… they reminded me that I am still alive and that I can do this. I keep hearing your words, "you got this" in my head and I am starting to believe them”.

I will slowly stop sending them, spacing the days between each one out longer and longer. She has been receiving wonderful support from the bereavement team, and her family and friends are really stepping in to be there for her. I imagine we will always stay in contact but I know it is time for me to step back.

The red heart text message helps me to work through my own grief. I benefit from them too... I imagine we all would. It only takes a few seconds to send a red heart text to someone that needs to be reminded they are not alone... xo

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