Amanda Lamb: The kindness of strangers

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Amanda Lamb, WRAL-TV reporter, writer and author

I think the thing we learn the most from watching someone die is that the compassion human beings have for others is limitless. It’s easy to forget this in our social-media-obsessed world where everyone seems intent on tearing other people down rather than building them up.

My mother-in-law spent the past few days this week at Transitions LifeCare in Raleigh. The hospice facility was the last stop on a long journey of declining health that included multiple hospital stays. In comparison to the stress my husband’s family experienced the past few months, the hospice experience was a breath of fresh air—a place where his mother could leave the world in peace surrounded by her family and a staff of kind strangers.

The grandchildren were in and out. Thankfully, they were there the night before she died, lined up on the tiny couch in her room, working on their laptops as their grandmother lie peacefully in the bed just a few feet away. It was such a contrast to me—the vision of young lives getting ready to launch into the world while another life is winding down just a few feet away. It’s impossible for children, even those entering adulthood, to truly understand death as it’s an abstract concept to them—something that won’t happen to them for a hundred years as far as they’re concerned.

But what we can all understand—children and adults—is that the people who work in a hospice facility are unique human beings. They are putting themselves in a situation where constant grief is inevitable—the people they care for are going to die; they are not going to recover. To do the selfless work they do is beyond the kind of caring the most of us could ever imagine.

The night before my mother-in-law died, one of the nurse’s assistants came into the room to re-position her in the bed. After he and the nurse had completed the task, he reached into a cabinet and pulled out a comb. He then gently combed her hair and smoothed it out on the pillow behind her. It was such a small thing, combing a person’s hair, but it was such a big thing in my eyes. It was clear this woman was hours from death, yet this man, this stranger, was making such a deeply human gesture to comfort her and her family.

My mother-in-law passed away Friday morning with her loving daughter, my strong and selfless sister-in-law Jennifer, by her side, holding her hand. Jennifer was her rock and hospice was her path to peace.

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