My first “real” job was as a nursing assistant in a nursing home. After a shocking first few days, I learned to love and truly care about the residents. I found purpose and felt I was making a difference for these vulnerable aged. Whether it was feeding them, bathing them, or cleaning up their messes, I went about my duties with care and compassion. There were challenges I had never faced before, but I felt competent and fulfilled.
One summer day as I was going about my work, “spreading sunshine” (as my colleagues said I did) I started getting my charges up from their naps. I bounced into Mr. Olson’s room, singing a little tune. Thinking it a little strange that he didn’t respond the way he usually did, I went over to his bed, put my hand on his arm and gave it a little shake. Looking at him, I suddenly felt a cold fear sweep over my body. Something was not right. I ran from the room and called for one of the other aides to please come quickly. She took a quick look at me and ran into Mr. Olson’s room. Soon the room was full of people; one went to call the doctor, another started straightening out his bed, closing his eyes, making him look nice. I was plastered against the wall, watching what was going on, wondering what my role is supposed to be, and feeling very, very weak.
The nurse, noticing me on her way out of the room, said, “Audrey, you better go take a break. We can finish up here.” Running from the room, I locked myself in the bathroom, and leaned against the door, trembling. This was the first time I had ever seen someone who was dead. And it shook me to the core. Unexpectedly, with no warning, I was suddenly face-to-face with my biggest fear, my biggest demon. And I was unprepared. I resumed my duties, but I was never the same. The fears returned with a vengeance, just as before.