Recently, we lost a patient who had been on our services for almost a full year. Michele had been back and forth, living in the community and in our Center for Comfort Care & Healing during her eleven months with us. As a result, many team members in the field and in the Center came to know her and her family well.
When it was announced that Michele had finally let go after holding on so strongly for the past year, everyone felt the impact of her loss. Michele died in our Center with family and staff surrounding her. She was 42 years old and left a young daughter.
After Michele died, many team members—from social workers and RNs to CNAs—emailed sentiments about her. Staff felt a mix of emotions—from surprise and sadness to quiet relief: after a long, arduous battle, Michele was finally at peace.
The next morning, Stephanie, our Certified Nursing Assistant, shared her feelings in an email to staff, “I was heartbroken this morning coming in to hear the news of Michele’s passing. I will cherish our last interaction—braiding her hair, sharing memories and fears, but being comforted with prayer. She loved when I would dance silly for her and attempt to rap; her chuckle and giggle were so infectious. I can hear her so vividly in my head. Sending love to all. I knew her a short time, but what an impact she had on everybody on her journey here.”
Walking alongside patients on their end of life journey is what we do, but facing loss is never easy. There was an unspoken sadness among many of us after Michele left us in the Center.
But that same morning, staff received another email message about Michele from our Social Worker, Amy Bauer with a surprise photo attached: it was a picture of a duck that Amy had spotted in our Memorial Garden.
She wrote, “When I arrived at work this morning, there was a male duck in our garden. He’s sitting between the bushes. I am told that male ducks represent Joy and Xiu, our nurse, said that it is a sign of good luck. I’d like to think that it was a sign from Michele that she is free and beginning her next joyous journey.”
Amy’s message triggered a flurry of staff emails, most with heart emojis and messages of gratitude for this simple, unexpected gift.
If you look up what ducks represent, you’ll find they symbolize freedom and flexibility. They also represent the connections between heaven and Earth and the spirit and the material worlds. Caroline Boaz, our Center Administrator, let us know that in Native American culture, the duck is regarded as a teacher, providing lessons in emotional comfort and protection. And the green from the head of a mallard symbolizes a time of growth and healing. She said, “it seems to be a perfect message from Michele and all our angels that hang around here.”
What that lone, stray duck didn’t know is that it showed up in our garden at the perfect time. Its presence pierced the sadness we were all feeling and suddenly we were lifted. It was a gentle comfort of the wonder in our world, and a powerful reminder of the peace that hope can bring.
Rest in peace, Michele.