I didn’t know a book about death could instill such faith in life.
Nina Angela McKissock, RN, author of “From Sun to Sun,” does something unique in her memoir about hospice nursing: she imbues the dying experience with the magical, the sacred and the natural.
With lyrical prose and a lovely style for storytelling, McKissock challenges our fears about death and inspires hope. The great stars of the book are its ensemble cast of patients, but we get a full glimpse of Nina The Nurse, too: how she relates to patients, the feelings she experiences, the ways in which her life is changed forever because of her work.
I was reminded of my own fear of aging and debilitating illness. I discovered that once I admitted and understood my fear of my body giving out, then I could truly find inspiration from my patients. Their experience assisted me with my fears. Staying strong and trying to be a “good” example is obviously insincere to the dying. Being in control and protecting our self-image will cut ourselves off and isolate us from valuable information that we could use in our own lives.
From a nurse’s perspective, one of the things I loved most about the book was witnessing the ways in which McKissock talks with her patients so honestly. She displays a willingness, even a moral imperative, to have those conversations that so many of us shy away from. In most cases, if the nurse doesn’t do it, no one else will. She also shows a certain fearlessness in doing things that might seem unconventional, as she did with a young woman who stays by the side of her much older beau during his death. She was from Brazil and had never seen snow.
Just as John died, it began to snow. The flakes were huge, wet, and heavy … I took Adrianna’s hand and gestured, “Come with me!” When we got to the front door, I asked her to close her eyes. I led her onto the lawn and told her that she could open her eyes. She was such a vision of beauty. As she looked up to the sky, the snowflakes alighted on her long, black, curly hair. Her tears were pearlescent and glowed in the sun and snow. She laughed as the snowflakes tickled her face, and cried at the same time from the intensity of John’s death.
I found myself moved to tears on numerous occasions, something that rarely happens to me. There were so many moments of not just sadness, but profound beauty. Each patient has a unique story, each leaves a lasting imprint.
Most of us are uncomfortable with death. We’re afraid of our own death, afraid of the deaths of our loved ones, afraid of our patients dying, of their grief and the grief of their families. McKissock’s memoir teaches us how to embrace death as part of life, how to open up death to the light of the sun.