Have you ever felt that your life was like a routine? Like it was something that constantly kept playing over and over again? I did. I kept doing stuff that to other people didn’t matter much. I always thought that if I survived the day, it was enough. But a lot of people talked. That’s what they do best. They said that I was wasting my life, throwing it away in a damp. At the age of 19, I really didn’t care. Half the time they spent talking I spent ignoring them. But I cannot ignore the fact that some of the things they said were true. My life consisted of three things; my job, my home and my faith.
I’ve lost interest in the world outside a long time ago. I’ve walked away from the life that I knew. There was nobody left to care anyway. And even though I’m surrounded by people who say that they care, who say that they will always be there for me and that they will never leave, they can never fill the void inside my heart. The part of my heart where the people I loved resided. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me. I’m too afraid to let people into my life because I’m afraid of being left alone again. But then something happened to me. Or more like, someone happened to me.
This person came into my life in the most unexpected circumstances. And just like that left without warning. This someone unknowingly changed my ‘routine’. Her name was Joanna Patricia Smith. Joanna was 12-years-old when I first met her. She had just been transferred to the hospital I was working in. I found out that Joanna had spent the past three years in and out of hospitals. She was 9 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer. Back then, I didn’t care, to me she was just another patient and coincidently I was assigned to her. But something about her fascinated me.
In a matter of speaking, she seemed different from typical 12-year-olds and like the two ends of a magnet, I felt myself drawn to her. It was then that my fascination led to curiosity. I befriended her and unknowingly allowed myself to care about someone again. While Joanna, in exchange, slowly learned to trust me with her past. It seemed impossible. We were from two different worlds. But somehow, we were the same. Different but the same, if that made any sense, I don’t know. Joanna was an orphan. Her mother had died hours after she was born and her father died in an accident when she was just 3-years-old.
She was basically half-raised by her brother, who was nine years her senior. To Joanna, her brother was her whole world; her role model; her hero. And whenever she said those things, the memories would just come flooding back to me – memories that I subconsciously buried in a very deep place. It was like a bad dream – a dream where I kept running, scared and alone. Maybe I just felt jealous. It was probably because she still had someone that I had lost a long time ago. But then I reminded myself, this wasn’t about me. It was about a little girl who was suffering without really knowing the purpose.
But despite this, she remained innocent of the world around her. ‘Make the best out of it,’ she used to say, ‘because you only get to live once. ‘ Such strange conclusions from an extraordinary source. I guess that’s what made me care about her so much. It was her strength; her spirit; her faith – something that she didn’t lose all throughout the whole ordeal, one of the many reasons why I miss her so much. Despite the difference in our worlds, I found Joanna’s life story similar to mine. She reminded me so much of myself. And every time I looked at her, it was like looking at the mirror of my past. I just didn’t want to accept it back then.
I had my reasons and I kept those reasons safe. I was so sure nobody would understand. It was like a door that I had locked, with the key hidden away. That was how I would describe myself; hidden. Maybe I was just scared. But then again, the past is not something you run away from, because it will always come back haunting you. I felt angry; betrayed. Because of everything that I had been through and because of the people who abandoned me along the way. But whenever I was with Joanna, it was different. She made me realize that everything happened for a reason – that God wouldn’t allow us to suffer, if it was all for nothing.
She seemed to know a lot. Probably from her experiences in her past. I’m not sure. I never really got the chance to ask her. But I was slowly learning to accept her theories, because she was right. No pain would have caused despair, if only we knew God’s reasons behind it. But despite knowing this, I was not yet prepared to let go of my anger. The wound was just too deep. And even though it happened a long time ago, the memories were still fresh inside my head. And it hurt, a lot. I guess the pain never really completely goes away. It just subsides in you.
It becomes part of who you’ve become, part of who you were and part of who you will be. But it’s still there, waiting. And when the time finally did arrive, the wound would be re-opened and the pain would be too much that you would prefer to die. That moment has yet to come. So I waited. I waited for that final moment of pain, so that maybe after that, I would be able to let go of all my anger; of all my fears. But until then, I would have to put aside all the emotions stirring inside of me, if only to provide a little happiness to a terminally ill girl. Months went by and her condition just worsened.
I couldn’t hide the fact that I was worried about her. So I tried my best to make life as comfortable for her as possible. But Joanna tried even harder at assuring me that she was going to be alright. She was determined to keep fighting. Stubbornness – another quality we had in common. Despite the fact that she was weakening from chemotherapy, she always had that angelic, innocent smile on her face. And whenever I saw it, I couldn’t help but wonder why such a beautiful creature created by God, was allowed to suffer. Dubious, I know. For someone who was holding on to faith, I doubted a lot of things.
But then again, that doubt came from my fear of losing someone who became unquestionably close to me. Suddenly, I wasn’t just scared of losing Joanna – I was also scared for her. At that moment of recognition, I made a choice; a decision. I decided to be there for her. But this time, I wouldn’t do what most people did to you at these situations. I wouldn’t abandon her. The line between nurse and patient had long ago been crossed. And the boundaries of friendship became something more than it should be. I no longer saw it as my professional duty. She was not just another patient. She was not just another friend.
She was more like a sister to me; family. And if there was one thing I knew about being in a family was that you don’t turn your back on them. You shouldn’t. And if nobody was going to be there for her, I could at least try. Since I had no social life, one would think that this task would be easy to achieve. But that wasn’t the case, because my colleagues had resumed the normal gossip about my life. My closeness to Joanna seemed to be a common interest in the hospital, more specifically it was drawing more attention in my department. The game had resumed and I was in the losing end again.
It seemed as if nothing I did would ever be right. Am I not allowed to be happy? Am I not even allowed to try? It would have been so easy to shut them out. I have done it a million times before, I’m probably a master by then. But it wasn’t just me that I was thinking about. I was also thinking of Joanna. If before her arrival, I could have easily ignored what they said, that time was different. I wasn’t the only individual in the equation. There were other feelings to consider. And unless I did something to put a stop to the rumours, people would continue to talk. But I was afraid of what the outcome would be.
I was afraid that if I did something to prevent the people from talking, it would only get worse. So I did what I always did in such situations; I ignored them. I rebuilt the wall that separated my world from theirs and shut them all out. Because a lot of things that mattered to them, didn’t really matter to me. And the only one that mattered to me at that moment was Joanna. I unknowingly dedicated a lot of my time to her. Moreover, I unintentionally changed my ‘routine’ for her. It seemed strange that someone you had just known for a couple of months could be able to affect your life so much.
But I deeply cared for Joanna. It might have appeared absurd to other people how I was so dedicated to her. Maybe I did it because she was the first person to have returned the gesture. It was like a strange feeling that slowly crept back inside of me – a feeling that I buried underneath all my anger. It made me feel vulnerable again. But that didn’t matter. As long as I knew that I was doing something purposeful in my life, that unlike my colleagues, I was doing something other than destroying the lives of the people around me. Even if it meant that I had to change the way that my life was directed.
Even if it meant that I had to change my so-called ‘routine’ For instance, I usually had regular night shifts in the hospital. But for Joanna, that changed. I made sure that I didn’t have as many night shifts like I previously had. One of the reasons I didn’t was because I wanted to spend more time with her. I would rather spend time with her during my morning or evening shifts just so that she could get her required rest. And whenever I did have nightshifts, I made rounds, just to make sure everything was alright. During one of my nightshifts, I made my usual rounds.
I went to check Joanna’s room last, just like I always did. When I noticed she was still awake, I quietly slipped inside her room. I hadn’t seen her at all that day and I figured a few hours with her would probably help her find sleep. When I saw her that night, it was as if I was looking at someone else and not Joanna. Her physical appearance had totally changed but her eyes were still the same shade of hazel brown. Her face didn’t have that sweet angelic smile that it usually did. She looked so tired and weary. I had never seen her so weak before. Her appearance scared me.
She looked like a 12-year-old girl with terminal cancer and that fact scared me. She didn’t seem to notice the look on my face because at that moment she asked me something I wasn’t ready for. I still remember the exact words that formed her question, “Nurse Jamie, can you please tell me your story? ” I was perplexed. For a moment, I didn’t know what to say or do. She might have recognized the shocked expression in my face because she immediately regretted the words that came out of her mouth. I slowly walked to her and sat in the empty chair that I had so frequently inhabited every time I was there.
And as I looked into her eyes, I realized, it was time. Time to finally relive my past. The past that I was so determined to run away from. I wouldn’t say that I was completely prepared but I was in a way waiting for it. There was no turning back now. So hear me out, this is my story. I was just turning sixteen when my whole world came crashing down on me. It was a telephone call – a phone call that confirmed the deaths of my parents. They were on their way back from a business conference when their plane crashed. It was all over the news, no survivors.
But still I hoped; hoped that there was a mistake somehow. So I waited, with my brothers, I waited. It was my eldest brother, Daniel, who answered the call that confirmed my worst fear. My parents were dead. It was hard enough for Daniel to hear on the other end of the line, but even harder to look straight into the eyes of his 18-year-old brother and 15-year-old sister, and say that the news was true. The words didn’t come out, all he could do was look at me and Christopher, and nod that it was indeed true. At that moment of confirmation, I lost all my resolve.
The tears that I had so carefully kept inside, came pouring out. The moment that I broke down, Chris and Daniel came running to my side. They hugged me and together we cried for our loss. Cried for what was yet to come. Had I known then that that incident would tear us apart, I would have tried harder; harder to keep the remaining members of my family together. But I didn’t know that then. Three days after the funeral, it was still gloomy inside the house. Since Daniel was the oldest and he was already 20-years-old, he gained sole custody of his younger siblings.
Not that it really mattered to me, but I was glad that no one new came into the picture. That day was also my first day back to school since mom and dad had died. I thought I was ready; I thought was going to be fine, but I wasn’t. That day in school, everyone seemed to be really careful what they said to me. Even my-so-called friends tried to cheer me up. It was pathetic. I lost my parents but that didn’t make me somebody else. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. When I got home, my brothers were having a serious conversation. Daniel had dropped out of college.
He said that he got a job that didn’t require full education on architecture, that the basics were enough. After three years of college, he was going to work. But there was a catch. Daniel would be gone most of the time since the site was 80 miles away. I know that I should have been happy for him – he was going to be able to provide for us, but I was scared. I had just lost my parents and with Daniel leaving, it felt like one more part of me would go missing. But he promised me that everything would be alright; that he would come home every weekend and that nothing was going to change in our relationship.
He did come home on weekends. Then once a month. Then practically never. He provided for our financial needs, but that wasn’t enough for me. I needed my brother. So technically, it was just me and Chris. Chris was not only brother – he also became my best friend. The one person that I could turn to and not be afraid of losing. He tried his best – no, he did everything in his power to protect me, to keep me safe and comfortable. Two years after my parents had died. Chris decided to drop out of college. He often joked that he was too intelligent for his professors.
But I knew the real reason why he decided to drop out. It was because of me, because I was graduating from high school and on my way to college. He knew that Daniel couldn’t afford to send both of us to college at the same time, so he dropped out. He wanted to make sure that I didn’t end up like them – that I graduated with a degree. And he was going to do everything could to help Daniel make that possible for me. A few days later, he came home and proudly declared that he was opening his own club with a college friend. He assured me that it was going to be legal.
I didn’t doubt him for a second. Surprisingly, Chris and his friend, Mark, didn’t find it difficult to put their ideas into reality. The club was standing in a matter of months and attracted a lot of people. I thought that things were finally looking up. But I was wrong. Something terrible was about to happen – I felt it. The premonition turned out to be true. A few days after the success of Christopher’s new business, he died. He was murdered. According to the police, it was a case of mistaken identity. The nightmare had finally come to life, it was only a matter of time.
When I found out, I was so in denial. There had to be some mistake. Because my brother, Chris, was still alive. I saw him that morning; alive and well. As I walked down the hall, on my way to the morgue, I vaguely tried to remember our last conversation. The very last words I said to him before I left for college was “Love you too, Chris. I’ll see you later. ” But I wasn’t going to him again, atleast not breathing. Still I was glad – atleast I got to tell him that I loved him before he died. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
When I entered the morgue, there was only one body there. So there was no mistake that it was Chris. I removed the sheet covering the body of my dead brother. There was no mistake – it was indeed my brother, Christopher Hennesey. My vision was suddenly clouded with tears, so I tried to run; tried to run away from the horrifying reality. But two strong arms stopped me. It was Daniel. I allowed the tears to fall uncontrollably. While Daniel just stood there and held me. I remember walking around the house feeling so lost; so alone. I kept asking questions but I received no answers.
I felt as if the whole world had abandoned me, that there was no one I could turn to, no one except God. I wondered how a house that was once filled with laughter, with so much happiness, felt so cold. I questioned myself: how did everything end up this way? How did I lose the two guys that I trusted most with my life? How did it happen? I’m not sure I remember. And eventhough Daniel was there, helping with the preparations for Chris’ funeral, I didn’t dare allow myself to get close to him. Because I wouldn’t be able to deal with it when he left again. I stood in that cemetery to bury someone very close to me, again.
Daniel tried his best to reassure me that everything was going to be alright, but nothing and no one could ever make it alright. After Christopher was buried, Daniel told me that he was leaving that same day. He had work. I wasn’t shocked by his behaviour – I barely knew him anymore. And just like that he was gone. Like a paper in the wind. So there I was abandoned and alone. Can you blame me for feeling angry? For feeling betrayed? Because I have a right. I had lost too much in this life to have gained too little. The only thing that I kept holding onto was my faith. It was then that I began to shut everyone out.
And now, two years later, I finally fulfilled Christopher’s wishes – I graduated with a degree in BS Nursing. And I am now a nurse retelling the story of my life. When I finished, despite the fact that she was weak, Joanna got up and hugged me tight. She whispered the words I never expected her to say, “There is always a reason. ” At that moment, I was overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions. I felt both relieved and proud. Relieved because I wasn’t holding everything inside me anymore, and proud to have known an angel in disguise. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday when in reality it was two years ago.
I have never forgotten how my life changed drastically, because of someone who wasn’t afraid to lose in this game called ‘life’. But unfortunately, she didn’t make it. Two weeks after that night, Joanna passed away. But this time, I didn’t get angry. I had a lot of time to prepare myself of what was to come. She walked into my life when I least expected and just like that, left. And eventhough I knew the conclusion of our relationship, her death still caught me by surprise. I often wondered why someone as special as Joanna was made to suffer so much, but then it occurred to me – there was a reason.
The purpose of all her suffering was suddenly clear. She had to go through all of that in order to help me deal with all the pain; with all the sorrow that I was hiding. Had she not been admitted to the hospital I was working in, I wouldn’t have realized that there was more to life than just suffering – that in the end of the day, I still have a lot to be thankful for, despite the hardships that surrounded my past. I stand here today, the same person I was all those years ago. The only difference is, I’m not scared anymore.
I finally gathered enough strength to fix my broken life – just as Joanna had asked me to before she died. It took a lot of effort to pick up the phone and call Daniel, but I did. I wouldn’t say that our relationship is back to the way it used to be, but we’re getting there. I won’t deny the fact that it was mostly because of her. Joanna saved my life. She taught me how to live – to take the risks and towards the end accept the consequences; no regrets. She helped me understand my faith. She reassured me that making mistakes was alright – that it was all part of being human. She assisted me on my journey.
She taught me a lot and eventhough the time we spent together was only limited, I am glad to have known her. I thank God everyday for bringing her into my life. She was the kind of an angel I did not know could ever exist. So Joanna, wherever you are, thank you. Thank you for the laughter, thank you for the tears. Thank you for the memories and thank you for everything that you taught me. I’m only sorry I couldn’t have done more for you. But I guess you’re happy now. And after all the pain that I went through, after all the suffering, I am now trying to rebuild my not so perfect life. It’s not easy, but I’m trying.