Learning about life and death from my daughter

At Boston College‘s nursing school ceremony

My daughter has told me many stories in the past eight years: first as a student nurse, then as an emergency room nurse and recently as a nurse practitioner intern for other medical facilities.

I remember the first time Mallory called me, so upset that an infant she’d been caring for had died in the emergency room. She asked me to meet her at a local restaurant after her shift, and I was trying to console her. As we sat in a booth, a woman stepped over and introduced herself. She was a nurse, with years of experience, and she had been listening in on our conversation.

She told Mallory that she would move past this first child’s death, but that there would be more to come. And she would get stronger because she would learn something from each death. She reminded her to focus on the children she helped. She said to remember that more children lived than died. Many more — because of her.

She also told Mallory to learn to lean on her co-workers. She said the people she worked with could help the most because they knew what she was going through. Mallory called me a few more times in tears, but that was the last time she ever asked me to sit with her. She has grown stronger and she has learned to support and get support from the nurses and doctors on her team in the ER.

It wasn’t until I was in my 50s, when I stood in the room while my mother drew her last breath, that I saw death. My daughter lives at the edge of life and death every time she walks into the emergency room. Each time I hear a story on the TV news about a child who died in the hospital ER where she works, I wonder if Mallory was working that shift. And, believe it or not, I hope she was. Because I know the child was touched by someone who cared in those last minutes.

I have seen Mallory grow more confident, sure of her skills and eager to learn new ones. She recently graduated with a master’s degree as a family practice nurse practitioner. It took her four years and a lot of determination to complete the degree while working full-time, paying for it herself, getting married and then traveling two hours for classes in Boston from her home in Connecticut.

A few months ago, while she was completing her intern hours, she told me how she had stitched up the hand of her first patient. She was impressed with how well her sutures had healed, when she got to take them out later. Again, I was reminded of how much she had changed since that first time she cried in the restaurant.

One last story.

While interning at a local clinic, she examined a very spry and animated 72-year-old woman. When the patient learned that Mallory would soon graduate with her masters from Boston College, she smiled and said, “Oh, that’s on May 21.”

Mallory said, yes, and asked how she knew.

“I graduated from nursing school at Boston College 50 years ago, and my class was invited to walk in the procession that day.”

As Mallory told this story about the woman who had loved being a nurse, I knew she had felt the power of that moment  — its synchronicity, magic, faith, serendipity. For her, it was another sign that she had found her path.

But we already knew that.


I hope Mallory is not embarrassed by this post. I did not ask her permission to share it. Emily, your turn is coming!

2 thoughts on “Learning about life and death from my daughter

  1. A marvelous expression of gratitude on your part. You are and should be pleased with Mallory’s growth. I have the highest admiration for nurses, especially hospice nurses who give loving care while knowing the final outcome. My experiences walking the journey with Sandy have given me some positive insights into death and dying and for that I am grateful. She sleeps most of the time now and doesn’t leave her room. I know the call will come at some point and I will grateful that she has gone on, relieved of her condition. Tell Mallory that she is one of those who make and will make a difference in people’s lives. Suggest to her also that she learns to take of herself.

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