The Cool Side of the Pillow

This time of the year I am reminded of my dad’s final hospital stay two years ago. The memories are bittersweet. Certainly there is the pain of things going from bad to good to horrible to hopeful to hopeless, but there are also the memories of my family.

Not only did we look out for my dad, we looked out for each other. It was important to us that he never be alone, and he never was. But to do that we had to work in sync. We had to communicate, We had to speak our needs and coordinate our schedules and do what needed to be done. We adjusted and tweaked and we never left him…from November 8 until his death December 18. It’s certainly easier to do this when you have four siblings….yet we were all needed and it consumed our lives for the duration. There was nothing more important.

When someone is in ICU, there is only so much you can do.  I did not inherit the nursing gene from my mother. It does not come naturally to me. I am a bit squeamish, and become even more graceless than normal when put in that situation. As a nurse, I am a great patient advocate. I am “that” family member. I will follow the medical staff around to get attention for those I love. I avoid doing direct care myself….but I will make sure my people get it.

My mom….the former public health, Hospice, and chemo nurse….has a gift. There is no one better at taking care of the sick. She always makes things better. From her I have learned to pay attention to the little things.

My dad had a tendency to be hot-natured. Knowing this, my mom would lift my dad’s head periodically and turn his pillow over to the cool side. That gesture was something that I know brought him such relief. Such a little thing, but it was the definition of love. A reminder that my mom, his wife of almost 60 years, knew who he was, was paying attention to what she thought would be making him uncomfortable, and she was doing something to make it better. We watched and learned. It was something even I could do for Dad.

I’m not one who is very impressed by huge dramatic gestures of “love”. I’m not saying no one should ever do them…and I have been entertained, and even touched,  watching many. They are usually very appreciated by the recipients and wow the crowd.

But to me, love is most precious in the small gestures. The little acts of kindness we do for those around us, that often go unnoticed.

Proverbs 11:25 says “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (NIV)

Some read this verse as “Do something nice for someone, so they will do something nice for you.”  I believe we often get in that mindset, and it is sure to disappoint us.

Instead, I belief the very act of refreshing the soul of another reflects that refreshment back to us. It brings us a sense of peace, like a tiny puff of cool air, or a sip of water on a warm day. Like the cool side of the pillow.

Life is tough. We often get road weary. We are over-stressed and over-extended and often that makes us only aware of our own needs and wants.

But pause. Think of someone. Really think about them. Not yourself. What small need can you meet for them?

Do they need an authentic compliment (not a cheap one)? A hug? Someone to help them with a chore they hate? Is there something that is causing stress in their life that you can make better? Is there someone hanging on the sidelines of a group that needs to be drawn in? Someone who is a bit cranky that needs someone to hear them talk it out?

So much of life is about ourselves. Even things we pretend we do for others is often more about us than about them. If you get mad because they don’t appreciate your gesture, it was never really about them in the first place. It was about how you wanted them to respond.

I know it frustrates….but if you expect a certain reaction it just may indicate it was a selfish act. (Not to say they shouldn’t have appreciated it….but that’s another dimension to it all in many ways totally unrelated to the gesture itself.)

Anyway, for this person who came to mind (short attention span folk, see above), find a way you can take their pillow and turn it over to the cool side. Show them that you see them, understand them, and are there to help.

Do it as a simple gesture of love for them, not because you want them to reciprocate. Focus on the gesture, and meeting their need, not on anything else. And then tomorrow, do it for someone again.

I’m not talking big grand gestures, but small bites of refreshment. Things the outside world may not even notice, Things that person may not fully notice, but things you notice. Be the one who brings cool comfort to a sick and restless soul. Be the one who turns over the pillow.

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