ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ - She came in as a rehabilitation resident, but in spite of all medical efforts and care, it wasn’t long before Mary was determined to be in need of long term care, and was moved from one unit to another at the care center not far from her home.

It was her birthday, and Mary and the staff were all looking forward to it. Her family was coming in the afternoon with a birthday cake to celebrate, and Mary talked happily with her nurse about how much fun it would be.

Suddenly, Mary experienced a seizure and had difficulty breathing. Nurses tried everything but it was evident that her time had come and Mary was close to breathing her last. Both the nurse from the unit where she had been a resident, and the nurse in the long term unit where she had only been a short time, together with her aide, stayed with her,  gathered around her bed. The aide suggested they all say a prayer. As she took Mary’s rosary from the bedside table and gently wrapped the beads around Mary’s fingers on top of the crisp white blanket, the staff softly praying, Mary took a deep breath,  settled her body a bit, and breathed her last.

There was shock, tears and sorrow, but the staff went about the routine duties they are trained to do at the passing of any resident, including notification to the family.

The family arrived later in the day, as planned, carrying the cake they had planned for Mary’s birthday celebration.  “You take it,” they gently said to the nurse,” share it with the staff and enjoy it as a celebration of Mary’s life. With our deepest thanks for your loving care.”

Later, the nurse who had just experienced her first bed side observation of a resident’s death, said, “It was so moving, it was so peaceful, it was so comforting knowing we had taken care of Mary and she died in such peace, with no pain or fear.” Then the nurse, experienced, capable, loving, wiped a tear from her eye, and said, “it’s times like this that remind me of why I stay and do what I do.”   

This event happened this week at Care One at King James on Route 36. The nurse who is referenced in the exchange said sharing her story with others may help another nurse having a difficult day, working an extra shift, or  dealing with a difficult resident because “it will let her know why she chose to do this kind of work.” And added benefit of the story, she pointed out, is that it will help other families realize that occasionally a nurse cannot answer a resident’s need immediately because perhaps she is dealing with a resident who might not have another day to live. “Families are very understanding,” the nurse said, “but sometimes, when their loved one needs attention, they get perplexed as to why we can’t always be right there. Perhaps this will help them see the care and love we do give to each resident, and how sometimes there are priorities that must be addressed first.  And they’ll know that their loved one will receive that same attention, love, and care whenever necessary.”