Years and years ago, people said finding black-bordered envelopes from the Netherlands was nearly unbearable because you knew the moment you took the blame thing from the mailbox that someone was dead, someone probably beloved.
Times have changed. Envelopes no longer cross the ocean on steamers or even jets and few come rimmed in darkness. Still, today I get the same skein of chills whenever I open my email and see the words "Caring Bridge." I can't help wince.
The woman at the heart of this morning's Caring Bridge message is a retired nurse who spent most of her life attending others' through a whole museum of hurts and pains. It's a sad thing, but the truth is that you come to love nurses deeply when only a nurse can love you. I don't know that I respect anyone on the face of the earth more than my mother-in-law's hospice nurse. What she gave away was not just heroic, it was angelic.
And so was the woman Caring Bridge tells me is now officially dying. This wasn't the first note; they'd been coming for weeks already because the cancer that somehow got in her was a horrible rattler. She had but one chance, and the odds weren't good, but they were worth trying.
A cure was not to be, Caring Bridge says. Now, she's leaving the hospital, going home to die.
She wasn't what I'd call a good friend, but she was more than simply an acquaintance. She was blessed with a voluminous and warm personality, one of a kind, a beloved and memorable presence. She loved other people immensely, and not just professionally. She will be missed. Whole hospitals full of patients will never forget her--honestly.
I just now responded to that Caring Bridge, spent some time trying to weigh words as best I could. She's dying, after all, and I'm inexperienced at talking to people who are about to leave. But then I'm sure I'll get better at it. In the next decade I'll have innumerable opportunities.
I talked to a young preacher a week or so ago, someone honestly concerned because he'd never yet conducted a funeral. What's worse, he imagined--and it was clear he'd done some worrying about it--his first funeral would likely be one of those bitter deaths that shouldn't happen, someone suddenly taken. He's probably right, given the church he serves.
He's young. By the time he's my age, he'll have long ago become someone else's mentor.
But I don't imagine it's ever particularly easy, even for a hospice nurse--leaving, I mean.
And that's what makes people wince at a black-edged envelope or an e-mail note from Caring Bridge. Someone is leaving, as is this kind and loving woman who spent her life loving her family and a host of patients on the tile floors of mostly small-town hospitals.
I sent a note myself, but couldn't delete the announcement. It's still there in my inbox, marked read. It's opened, and what it holds is no longer news. Nothing more than the tip of my finger will kiss it off into hyperspace or whatever landfill is home to spent e-mails. Just hit the key and poof! it's gone.
A few minutes ago, just before I started typing all of this I couldn't do it. I just couldn't delete it, just couldn't erase it.
But I have to. We all do.
And that still hurts. It always does.
In this life, there's always another black-edged envelope.
That too the new young preacher will learn soon enough.