The first time I had a desire to share something publicly in written form happened following the worst night of my life.
The writing didn’t happen immediately. In fact I never dreamt I’d pen what I had seen and experienced on that night of nights. It seemed too personal. But in time I had a longing to explain how something so dreadful could exude such beauty.
In fact my first published piece of writing was in the professional nursing journal, the Nursing Standard. I wrote as a staff nurse who normally cared for adult patients, about something I had learnt from my experience in paediatrics.
Perhaps that’s a tad deceptive. I wasn’t working in paediatrics. I was a mother with a sick child.
And on the night in question our child died.
It was a night I will never forget. A night of indescribable pain, not least because we weren’t with Cheryl when she died.
When we returned to the hospital after the devastating phone call, the staff nurse showed us into the sideward. I thought I knew what I was going to see when she pushed the door open, as I had prepared many a body in my other life as a nurse in cardiology.
White shrouds and starched sheets tucked under the chin was the normal preparation before a visiting family came to say their goodbyes… or so we had been taught.
But not so on this night.
Cheryl was beautifully dressed in the pink and lemon dress I had bought for what was to be her last birthday – her tenth. The waves of her blonde hair bounced as she was placed into my arms. No stiff starchiness of death produced any distance between us.
And as I stretched out her fingers my mother exclaimed: “Someone’s cut her nails. I was going to do that tomorrow.”
“It was me,” the nurse replied, concerned she had done something wrong.
It wasn’t wrong, we reassured her. It was beautiful. That she should even think to trim her nails.
“I wanted her to be lovely for you. She is… was… such a beautiful child.”
“Is,” I corrected. “She is beautiful.”
In the days that followed I couldn’t help but think of how often we nurses had got it wrong. How we had prepared someone’s father or mother, or husband, or wife, after their death, and in our white-starched world we had unwittingly created a barrier between them and the people who wanted that last hug… that final caress.
We had done our best, but our best had created a “don’t-touch” look.
And so I wrote a nursing article for adult nurses – to encourage them to create as natural an atmosphere as possible for families when they come to say their final farewells. The biggest surprise came when the journal agreed to publish it!
I called the article: “Death of a Child.” It was published back in 1990, and has often been used with student nurses in N. Ireland to help them discuss issues around care of the dying.
It was a ‘writing’ first for me.
Often what we like to read comes from an author’s everyday experiences of both joy and sorrow.
In my case writing began as the product of sorrow, but I discovered that even that can produce something beautiful.
What awful thing has produced something beautiful in your life?