When Angels Weep

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Dearest Sorcha,

     Last night, I saw the splendor of our future. Not in the glow of the bursting full moon or the blaze of crackling fire, but in the halo of my protégé.

     In a tiny room, bathed in the glow of a rose-glass lamp, one of our dearest and loveliest patients received the Lord’s call. Reaching for the light, the elderly woman’s fingers trailed the air as if a loved one’s grasp fell short, time and time again. The hand she finally found belonged to you—her lifeline between the realms of heaven and earth.

     Then tonight, I discovered you alone and grieving in our private chapel. Your tears fell to the stone floor with the weight of time’s relentless march, reminding me of all the life lights we’ve watched flicker out and the spirits we’ve had the privilege to set free. While we share what some call the curse of immortality, in your hands it’s a miraculous blessing. You, the youngest of old souls, soar closer to the flame than most of us dare—ever vulnerable to the heart-wrenching pain of human tragedy. Dignity and grace in the face of death…that is a talent born into your blood.

    So, on this year’s darkest and deepest of winter nights, I implore you to celebrate the ritual of Solstice with our family. We will feed well, drink deeply, and unite our energies until the veil separating us from the ancestors falls away.

    Mourning and respect offered for those lost, will heal your heart. Joy that transcends time and restores hope for the new year, will grant you wings.

               Until tomorrow night then, my brave angel,

               Carry on,

            Raimond

 

How I know it’s enough…

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Father’s Day 2016 was an eerie Sunday…24 hours that I needed to survive without falling apart, and the first Father’s Day since my Dad passed away.

I had questions.

Did I do everything right? Was I strong enough for my Mom and my Brother? My Dad wasn’t perfect…neither am I. Was I a good enough Daughter?

My Dad lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease at 930 pm on April 1st. It wasn’t a surprise, but even if you think you’re prepared, you’re never truly ready to lose a parent. I felt relief, guilt, anger and then nothing at all—a continuous loop of confusion. Every moment since has been a struggle to regain balance…at work, at home, but most importantly in my heart and mind. Writing anything original has been next to impossible…but I feel the fog lifting, a bit.

Work was and is still is, an enormous hurdle. I’ve spent nearly three decades working as a Respiratory Therapist in the Intensive Care Unit, often a tragic place. I’ve seen so much death… but births, I could count those on one hand. Births that didn’t involve CPR and a bad outcome…I count them on one finger. Sounds like a thankless job. Backbreaking work, crappy hours, emotional exhaustion…can the sacrifice possibly be worth enough? The surprising answer is…yes, but not for the paycheck. What you’re told when you’re hired by the hospital is your official job description that covers the technical and physical aspects of shift to shift life…more than enough to be an excellent caregiver. What you learn over the years, is that the doctors, nurses, therapists, secretaries and techs that who are called to this life, give from their hearts…even when they think they have nothing left to give.

I still have questions. Does anyone notice or appreciate us? Do we give enough to make a difference? What will it all mean, in the end? And then, last night…a simple thank you from an elderly patient put it all into focus.

I think…I hope, I handled everything to the best of my ability. My Dad died with dignity and family at his bedside. I’m reminded of how essential this is, every night I spend with my team—past and present. Thinking all the way back to 1987, it’s  been my blessing and privilege to work with them for more than half my life. I’ve watched them face the darkest hours of the night, fight staggering odds to save a life, comfort patients and their families on the worst days of their lives, and hold a stranger’s hand so they don’t die alone…these quiet people in scrubs are secret angels that walk on earth.

As sad as these months have been, I am sure of one thing. My Dad is no longer trapped in a body that failed him or a mind that imprisoned him. So, if he was met at the door to Heaven by just one more angel…that would be enough for me.

Casting Call

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Sometimes, I forget how it happened…the rush of being swept away by characters that didn’t exist until the moment they stepped out of the smoke and took the stage.

Three years ago this month, in a January darkened by the aftermath of a different storm, the first story was born.

It was intense, exhausting, addictive, and I’ve discovered…incredibly elusive. The newest cast members have a mind of their own.

While I wait, my mind wanders…to stained glass windows and dangling shutters that framed strange faces…along alleys lined with crooked doorways, when haunting footsteps echoed next to mine. Back to the shadowy labyrinth where I met the monsters…

A doomed commander, blessed with the heart of a savior,

A blood slave, hiding her exotic appetite,

A perfect prince, arrogant and viciously flawed,

A trained healer, born to be a killer,

A legendary warrior, incapable of simple trust,

A second son, unwilling to be held hostage,

A brilliant politician, searching for courage to love,

A city behind walls, glittering and moody, ravaged and reborn,

And a fledgling nurse with the soul of an angel, carrying a spirit fierce enough to make them all family.

La nuit sans fin…

 

NYC to NOLA, One Nurse’s Journey

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Tonight I had the pleasure of visiting a historic, French Quarter residence to interview Sorcha B. Alden,  a 2015 nominee for the “Light Up Every Room” award. A career nurse, Sorcha was born September 3, 1916 and has cared for patients around the world in her quest to relieve suffering and celebrate every precious moment of life. She currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Ms. Alden, congratulation on your nomination!

Thank you for traveling so far for to interview me.

I know you’re from New York City, were you born there?

Yes, at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hell’s Kitchen.

What prompted you to move so far south?

Initially, for a job, but New Orleans gets under your skin. I felt the ground shake when I stepped off the train in 1935…I didn’t realize it then, but I was home.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

My mother, Adelaide Alden. She passed away when I was 21 years old. My life’s path has been about honoring her legacy.

You don’t look a day over 22…what’s your secret?

I may have found the fountain of youth, but it’s cost me everything.

Who has been the most influential person in your incredible journey and why?

Dr. Raimond Banitierre. He taught me how to stare adversity in the face and cherish every gift I was given. Balancing love and duty was his greatest strength.

Have you ever been in love?

Once. Well…yes, just once.

Are you married?

In my heart, I am. Officially, my husband and I are separated. It’s complicated.

What are you most passionate about?

Preserving the dignity of people at the end of their lives. Treasuring our ancestors and their memories.

What makes you angry?

Seeing people disrespected because they’re different. Acceptance is the key to survival.

What makes you strong?

The unwavering support of my family and friends.

What character trait do you most admire in others?

Vicious loyalty.

One more hard question…what was the most important day of your life?

New Year’s Day, 1955. I faced my fears and won back New Orleans for the Banitierres and Aldens.

Now, let’s have some fun. What’s your favorite drink?

The Garnet Martini. It won’t be on the drink menu, but any New Orleans bartender worth their salt can mix it.

Favorite musician?

Band—Volbeat. Musician—Lady Gaga or Meatloaf. Depends on my mood.

Your favorite color?

Sapphire.

Favorite vacation spot?

Scotland. The Isle of Skye.

What holiday do you look forward to each year?

Halloween…and Christmas. I love to decorate for both.

If you could give a piece of advice to future generations, what would it be?

 Strength to forgive your enemies, vision to see power in diversity, and the courage to lead will pave the road for a brilliant future.

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Bad Night…Good Day. Best Day To Come

Tonight is a rare occasion when I write as Anne Marie.

Last night was a rough, hospital night. As my BFF Sorcha would say, it was one of those nights when nothing you do makes any difference. She learned from her mother’s nursing wisdom, back in World War I.  I’ve learned from twenty seven years as a Respiratory Therapist. But, in 2015, those wise words still ring true.

Everyone knows the right thing to do, but so few stand up and make it happen. Because, it’s hard. Doing nothing is easy. Doing the right thing takes guts. I watched Scandal tonight and thought, Olivia Pope and Sorcha Alden would have hit it off. Two strong women, from different times, with the same mind.

So, maybe, just maybe, by God’s grace, our bad night turns good in the end. It happens. We’re due.

Better yet, is the excitement of joy to come. Joy with a capital J….or a capital R.

Little girl…your world awaits.

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