Shortly before I came to work this morning, a patient died. The moment I stepped off the elevator, even before putting away my bicycle helmet and bright-orange vest, I walked over to the white board where patients’ basic stats are displayed. As someone said that “she passed this morning,” I erupted in tears. She’d had been with us for several weeks, suffering quietly from an illness for which there’s no known cause or cure. I’d loved her. A nurse offered her arms and I sobbed. Walking to my office, I wept some more. Minutes later, free from self-worry, I stepped out to see how I might be of service.
The rest of the day flew by as if in a dream: a complex family meeting; an impromptu memorial gathering on the roof garden for which the right words naturally came; countless hugs and hand-holding; silent presence at a bedside; explaining that mom’s spirit may well have left the room; a lone vigil with a deceased prior to arrival of the van; assisting a man taking his dad’s belongings to the car; leading a drop-in meditation session; hearing a co-worker’s laments that today was the anniversary of her sister’s death at sea seven years ago; finding a bowl of blue berries in my hands from a coworker who knew that I hadn’t eaten lunch … and on and on for six non-stop hours.
This is the best job in fifty years of employment. I’m filled to overflowing with gratitude … delighted, afloat, equanimus. “True gratefulness rejoices in the other,” writes psychiatrist Robert Emmons,
It has as its ultimate goal reflecting back the goodness that one has received by creatively seeking opportunities for giving. The motivation for doing so resides in the grateful appreciation that one has lived by the grace of others. In this sense, the spirituality of gratitude is opposed to a self-serving belief that one deserves or is entitled to the blessings that he or she enjoys. Knowing the grace by which one lives is itself a profound spiritual realization.
source: Emmons, R. (2008). “Gratitude: the science and spirit of thankfulness.” In: Measuring the immeasurable: the scientific case for spirituality. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, p.123.