Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us. ~Samuel Smiles
People in Maine coined this winter, “The one that wouldn’t end.” Pounded with snow and snappy temperatures, this resilient people hold on with the hope for spring, new life.
I walked around my yard last Saturday morning, assessing the upcoming yardwork. Under the canopy of trees beyond our lawn, scattered patches of snow clung to the mid-April earth. The steam from my coffee curled into the chilled air and mingled with the mud scents. The spongy ground gave way beneath my shoes, throwing soppy noises with each step.
Remnants of winter’s chill remain heavy on the earth, with the horizon looking more like a charcoal sketch than the birthing of spring. But, with the curse comes the blessing.
I round the corner to my front flowerbeds. I bend down, as an adult does – to get eye level with a child. I touch the young sprouts that reach towards me; caress their soft, newborn leaves – so giving as they yield to me.
Peonies climb up from their winter slumber, casting faint shadows at their feet. Young bleeding heart branches nudge free with new hope. The tender bleeding heart breaks my heart for one I remember this spring.
It is May 2014. I am an oncology nurse sitting with my patient beneath the dangling blood pressure cuff and weight of her prognosis. “B-Beep! B-Beep!” A nearby IV pump alarm fires its warning to nursing staff. Another nurse rushes by to extinguish that moment’s ‘fire.’ I lean forward as my patient describes her symptoms through winded words. Her chest rises and falls, rapid and weak, like a wounded bird fighting for life.
Each day, I hope, in some way, I heal my patients. In reality though, they are the ones who heal me with their strength, love, and hope.
I complete my nursing assessment of my 52-year-old breast cancer patient, a woman who has battled through twelve years of various chemotherapies. I didn’t need today’s assessment to know what she has taught me.
This was her last-chance chemotherapy. There were no other options left.
She has always been so full of hope.
* * *
I first met her six years ago, during her remission. Her athletic frame and tan skin imparted her love for nature and hiking. She was resilient, much like the rugged Maine coast she adored.
I remember her playfulness, despite her long-standing diagnosis and the uncertainties she lived with day-to-day. One afternoon she waited in an exam room for her appointment with her oncologist. I approached the room to inform her of the doctor’s delay. Her giggles greeted me as I opened the door to see her glide across the room on a wheeled exam stool!
Her warm smile could melt snow.
Over the years, she and I developed a bond. We shared a fondness for words and gardening. We spoke of C.S. Lewis, writing, and our faith. She talked about one of her preferred places to be, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and then told me her favorite flower was the crocus, “… because it was God’s promise of winter’s end.”
* * *
I remember the last time I cared for her in the cancer center. She maintained her warm countenance, even on this day when breathing took all her energy. The vicious breast cancer, already in her bones, had invaded her lungs. I bent down towards her in the wheelchair, felt her chest billow for air. We both knew the day’s outcome. I felt a sense of words unspoken. I tried so hard to hide my tears, but then remembered tears are a way of showing my love.
She died a few weeks later.
As this spring gives birth to blossoms and the hope of summer, I think of her hope – of “God’s promise of winter’s end,” and how hope casts the shadow of our burden behind us.