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Intimate Strangers

Hospice patients will share their deepest secrets and most distressing stories with me, often within the first hour of our first meeting.  I don’t know why hospice nurses are a safe place to land hard truths and confidences that have been kept private for decades. Hospice nurses are intimate strangers.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to Jack’s confessions of mafia involvement in New York City during the 1950’s. He shared how tough he had to be to survive and protect his family.  Providing for his wife and three children was his duty and purpose for taking significant risks. He bowed his head when he said he had to hurt people to prevent harm to himself and family.

The day came when Jack couldn’t get out of bed anymore; his blood cancer had taken his independence. In a moment of total acceptance of his impending death he turned his head away from me in shame as he tearfully confessed that he felt like a failure as he couldn’t protect and provide for his family anymore.  He felt that he had no purpose.

I offered the idea that perhaps he protected and provided his family into fierce independence and now his job is done.  He agreed with a smirk of acknowledgment of this truth. He died the next day.

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