Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Finding the Light in the Dark

By Linda Grupp Boutin

There are pivotal moments in lives that inform all events that come afterwards. In today's post I share one of those moments very early in my life that preceded all the trials that followed. It ignited a belief in my heart for God that I have never lost and my hope is that it shines a light into any darkness you may be experiencing. So return to me right now to Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1974...

Genesis 1: 3-4--And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
The sky stood black, tiny pricks of light barely shining through the dark night.  I walked into the double doors beginning my first ever graveyard shift. I wore a bright white uniform with brand new white shoes. The ad had read, “Opportunity Knocks.” I’d tried so many other want ads, but found no opportunities. This little hospital was willing to give one to me and I started the very next day.

            Antiseptic smells assaulted me as soon as I stepped inside. Other unidentifiable, not-so-good odors crept in as well. I gave up my youth at the door, never to be the same again. Dim lights lit the corridor as I strode up to the nurse’s station, 19 years old, ready to take on anything. A collection of young women leaned on the desk watching the clock approaching 11 p.m.

            “Oh, you’re here.  Let’s get going on bed check.  Come with us,” the oldest one told me. I followed meekly down the side hall wondering what exactly bed check was.  It didn’t take long to find out.  The nurses aides flicked the lights on in the first room, walked to the two beds and verified the patients were fine and needed nothing.  After the first few rooms, my shock faded since the elderly people barely stirred when the three of us entered.  One room was different, however.  A pale light glowed in Mrs. Johnson’s room; there was no need to snap on the lamps.

            A strange sound, reminiscent of a percolator, filled the small space.  I had never heard chain stokes before and couldn’t identify the sound.  I entered last and the attitude of the experienced nurses aides changed.  They whispered and walked more slowly.  As I stood at the end of the bed, I realized why they had a more reverent manner—Mrs. Johnson was dying.  Her face told the story; each breath was a huge labor.  “I forgot to clock in,” I squeaked barely able to speak. 

I ran out of the room oblivious of the girls behind me chuckling as I fled.  My pace slowed as I realized I’d been set up.  I rounded the corner of the long hall and saw the girls who were supposed to train me, sitting chatting in the dining room sipping coffee or colas and waiting for the clock to begin the change of shifts.  I found the time clock with my time card and clocked in.  They called to me to come and join them.  The charge nurse, Hankey, introduced me to the team of aides I’d be working with that night.  An older woman, Karen, would show me the ropes on the easy hallway.  I realized with relief that Mrs. Johnson was down a different hall.

At eleven o’clock precisely we stood up and went back where I’d just come from.  Karen pushed a cart laden with tall stacks of linens and we followed the evening shift aides from room to room verifying they’d left their patients in good order for us.  By midnight, we’d finished our rounds, second shift had departed, and we sat in the lounge getting up to answer patient’s lights when called.  The registered nurses came out of their room after receiving report.  Hankey picked up a flashlight and proceeded down all four hallways one by one.  On the final hallway, I watched as she ran back out to the nurse’s station and grabbed a stethoscope.

She walked back down where I’d started that night, a resigned look on her face.  Minutes later she reemerged, looked directly at me and said, “You’re trouble.  Your first night and someone dies.  You might as well learn about it, so Karen, you and Linda go get Mrs. Johnson ready for the mortuary.  I must go and call her daughter.”  Only later did I learn that Mrs. Johnson’s daughter was Hankey’s best friend.

Karen looked surprised.  Normally aides didn’t have to do anything down the hallways where they weren’t assigned.  She stood reluctantly and led the way back to Mrs. Johnson’s room.  I followed behind not understanding, but doing as I was told.  My step was slow and uncertain as we neared the room with the glowing light.  I noticed it was very quiet as we entered the door.

I stood amazed at the foot of the bed.  God had been gentle in taking Mrs. Johnson home to Him.  It was obvious she had passed on, but the mask of pain I’d witnessed earlier had been replaced.  Now she looked at peace, no more gasping for breath or struggling with life.  It was like an electric switch had been turned off and all her suffering had ended.  Carefully, Karen showed me the steps required to prepare her remains for the mortuary.  As we worked, I realized that death had not been a horror, but a relief for Mrs. Johnson.  I lost my fear and concentrated on doing the best job I could to follow Karen’s patient instructions.

When we’d finished, we returned to our seats in the lounge and tended to our own patients.  During the lulls when we weren’t doing anything, I thought about all I’d seen and heard so far that night.  I learned many things.  Most importantly I learned that utmost peace could descend on a person at death and that God’s light is there with us every dark step of the way.  Mrs. Johnson could now see His everlasting light and I knew this in my heart.  Familiar words sang silently through my mind:

Psalm 23:4—Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Oil painting published with permission of Pamela Howett

At 19, an invaluable lesson in my life, I had faced the darkness of death for the first time and discovered the light at the end of life would come from God alone, the source of all things both light and dark.