Friday, October 12, 2012

Eulogy for my Nurse

I will not keep revisiting this topic, but let me share one last time how I said goodbye to my wonderful nurse at her memorial service.


Thank you for the opportunity to expression my love and joy of having been able to work with Jennie over the last 20 years. My feelings and experience are not unique and other members of the St Jude family could have told their own wonderful stories about Jennie. In fact, I have borrowed some of my words from the remembrances and stories shared by Drs. Rhodes and Luecha and PA Kent Stout at a service at our office last week.
It is a singular honor and privilege to be able to say this goodbye to her in front of her friends and family and an even greater honor and privilege to have known her and watched her grow personally and professionally over the last two decades.
I so wish that I were saying this at her retirement party and not a memorial service.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dr. Brian Koffman and until my own personal health challenges with cancer some four years, Jennie was my medical assistant. We spend hours together five and sometimes six days a week for over two decades. I often told her and others, that she was, after my wife, the most important woman in my life and many days I spent more waking time with her than at home with my family. The relationship has been less intense with my illness and my subsequent absence from the office, but she remained an old and trusted friend and comrade. She was the only one that could give shots to my kids or my wife or even me. My family is all devastated by the loss.
Together for so many years we did the work that she so loved and was so skilled at - helping those who were sick or afraid or just trying to take of themselves. She was so reliable, so smart, so responsible, so gentle, so patient, so prescient, anticipating my and the patients needs for most visits and making things run so more smoothly for both the patient and me. She was such a fast learner. You told her something once and she nailed it. My co-workers and I all honestly believed that if her circumstances had been more fortunate, she could have been anything: a nurse, a physician assistant or a doctor.  In fact, she was always capable of more than just following complex medical orders. She was capable of giving them. The doctors in our group quickly learned that when Jennie had an insight or suggestion about a patient, you better listen. She had a sixth sense of people combined with an unbelievable memory for details that made her a master clinician. So many times when I was about to walk into a patient’s room, Jennie would pull me aside to remind me that the patient’s granddaughter had recently had a serious illness or that the patient nearly fainted six months ago when having blood drawn or that the patient admitted to her that she was afraid or overeating or a million details that I had forgotten or would never get to know.  She had an ability to hone in on what was important and not only make me aware, but make sure the patient understood the process. She took the extra time and never shunned the trying tasks of explaining the most complex medical issues in simple terms that young and old could understand. That skill takes the rare combo of smarts and caring, both of which Jennie had by the boatloads.
She remembered everyone and greeted them all with a smile and a friendly word. She made everyone feel important, heard, appreciated, and cared for. It was no act or technique. It was because her tender soul did care. It was who she was. Despite her own struggles, despite her often failed efforts to build bridges, despite her repeated and often frustrated attempts repair a broken world, despite her own vulnerabilities, she continue to give so much heart and soul to each “sacred encounter”. She put others’ needs ahead of her own, soothed their pains first before caring for herself. She was there for her patients and touched their lives in meaningful and unforgettable ways, a natural, gifted and hard working healer attested to by those who took the time to come here today and by the hundreds of notes and messages from patients who are devastated by our loss.
We were a team. She organized my scattered schedule, kept me accountable, and reminded me of my obligations. More than that I trusted her judgment and her reliability. She pointed me in the right direction. Her skills were complementary to mine. Her strengths covered my weakness. 
One of my patients said tearfully that she was my partner, my right arm. And she was.
Although recently we have not worked as much together, Jennie may have become even more important to me and my patients. In my absence, she answered their questions and concerns, when appropriate, by herself, and when necessary by taking them to one of the providers. She got the critical messages to me and from me. She has kept my connection alive with so many of them.
Another patient called her my surrogate. And she was.
Jennie had other special areas of expertise. As a proud ex-smoker she helped so many others join the reformed tobacco users club. She did this on her own time and on her own dime.  This was more unpaid work for her, but she was on a mission
Jennie’s was also a valued and friendly coworker at the medical group. She always went out of her way to greet people. Almost the entire office is here today as are many former members of our staff, because they want to honor Jennie. The staff in their hearts remember and still hear and see her frequent laugh and smile, appreciate her efforts to connect with everyone, even those full of hurt and anger. She knew words carry meaning and chose her carefully to avoiding causing anyone pain, directly or inadvertently. She was a trusted confidant that could protect a friendship, keep a secret and honor a debt. She wanted everyone to share in any potential joy. Let me give you a concrete example that demonstrates the detail she went to. With my frequent absences from the office, she would always put money in the office lotto pool in my name when the jackpot got huge, so I would share in the big winnings. And although neither of us or for that matter, any of the medical group ever became instant millionaires, Jennie wanted to make sure that I was not left out in the cold should the ship come in.
As I move forward without her (I still can’t believe that’s she’s gone), I pledge to incorporate her virtues into my work as a healer- her personal touch, her smile, her memory and her attention to personal details. This is a way I can keep her alive as part of me as long as live. I will take her into my heart and my deeds. May I humbly and gently suggest that you might consider doing the same. Take one of her strengths, one her virtues, and make it your own as a way to honor her memory.
As time goes by, I and all of us will focus more on her life, not just her untimely death. We will celebrate that life, the joy she brought us and our extended family and her co-workers and our patients. Her life will be her legacy. The pain of the recent tragedy will fade and the abundance of the gifts she brought to all of us, will be what we will cherish and recall. I am not there yet. I suspect neither are many of you. It is not something that can be rushed, but we will get there.
Finally, I believe with all my heart and with all that I learned from more than seven years of a death struggle with cancer, that we are all in this together. Sometimes it takes a tragedy, a rending of our family bonds to remind those of us that are left, shattered though we might be, that we share a common humanity and at least by my belief, a spark of the universal, a shared divinity. Jennie is still alive in our memories and her influence.
I will finish with a very short Hebrew blessing for those in mourning.
Zihrona l’vrahah May her memory be a blessing.

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Blogger Dragon Slayer said...

Beautiful eulogy. Heartfelt and I'm sure difficult to write and execute.

May your heart be filled with the joy of her memories

October 13, 2012 at 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh. I had no idea this had happened. I have been up in WA State burring my sister-in-law. Jennie was was wonderful person. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her. May her entire family feel God's presence during this time of sorrow. I know how much your relied on her. She was there for you and for me, more times that I could porobably count. The last time she helped me was to catch me as I was on my way down......Heck she was on her way home and didn't even have to stop and help. But that was not in hedr soul. She will be greatly missed.


October 13, 2012 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger E. Kostich said...

So very, very shocked and saddened to learn of this, especially after realizing who your "Hole in my Heart" post was for. I count myself as fortunate for having known Jenny for the entire time she was your assistant. She was a sweet, gentle soul who always had a spontaneous smile and kind word when I/we saw her. My family and I will certainly miss her. Prayers, light, and love to her family and friends. Good night sweet spirit.

October 13, 2012 at 7:58 PM  

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