Palliative care worker’s gratitude erases annoying day

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 19, 2007

’Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house . . . I was grumbling because I had to take my car in for servicing on the very morning I really wanted to be at my computer writing this column. Quite frankly, it was not an especially wonderful day for me, because although I knew I wanted to write about gratitude and Christmas, I was not grateful for the interruption in my struggle to find a local story to link Christmas and gratitude together.

All that changed in the twinkling of an eye when I arrived at Cochrane Dodge, turned my keys over to their great service staff, took a seat in the waiting area, and was greeted with a warm, welcoming “Hi, Warren!” from Reet Buckler, there for servicing on her car.

But before I share with you the unexpected “Christmas” gift she gave me, let me review some of your thoughts that prepared me for this moment.

Back in November, coffee companions Leo Peters and Molly Hamilton raised the question through this column, “What does a wonderful day look like?” A variation on that question was, “What can we do to make it a wonderful day for others?”

Many of you responded with heartwarming stories and suggestions. Four qualities, in particular, stood out, and I’ve already written about three: a listening heart, choice, and contentment.

The fourth quality – the one that topped the list – is gratitude.

Edmonton coffee companion Barbara Stevens shared at length about the power of “Thank you” for making wonderful days.

She always thanks her husband, children and grandchildren for things they do for her, she said, and in return receives unlimited expressions of their gratitude. She extends the same courtesy to people in the service sector.

“When we are shopping or are at a restaurant, I make a point to thank the clerk/server for something positive they have done. Whenever possible I talk with the manager on duty, or else I make a phone call after I return home. Surprise always greets my praise, as managers are more used to dealing with complaints.”

The next day after sending me that note, she received an e-mailed message from Rhonda Byrne, creator of the wildly popular book, The Secret. As an exclamation point on her own attitude of gratitude, Barbara sent me this quote from Byrne:

“If you live gratitude every single day, you will become one of the greatest human beings on the planet, and the light of your life will uplift our world.”

Now, that’s really about making a wonderful day for everybody!

Such an attitude of gratitude brings me back to Reet Buckler’s Christmas gift to me while we were having our cars serviced.

Reet is one of those people who is profoundly grateful for just about everything. She is so thankful she lives in Canada, she told me. She’s thankful for the beauty of the rural surroundings northwest of Cochrane where she makes her home. She’s thankful for the many people she meets along life’s way.

And in particular, she’s thankful for the people she’s come to know during her 15 years in palliative care work.

It is here that Reet really grabbed my attention, as she spoke of “the honour and privilege” that has been hers to be present to the dying in their final hours. This is about expressing her gratitude for life by extending the gift of herself in death, she told me – a “thank-you note,” so to speak, written through her presence.

She told me about one B.C. coastal woman who invited Reet to be with her as death drew near. The woman simply wanted to be propped up in her favourite chair, looking out the window over her beloved ocean, with Reet holding her hand.

The time came, and as Reet so movingly put it, “I took her hand and placed it in the hands of God.”

Well, there it was: the local link I had been looking for between Christmas and gratitude. But with a twist: the gratitude anticipated the gift.

What at first I saw as an interruption in my writing day had instead become a greater opportunity to understand an entire lifestyle of gratitude. Life had graciously brought Reet through this phase, and out of gratitude, she was there for others as they crossed over into the next phase.

Her story unites the four qualities of a wonderful day we’ve been thinking about over the past weeks: With a grateful, listening heart, Reet has made a choice to bring contentment to the dying through the gift of her presence.

And in life and in death, may the rest of us be just such a gift to each other, at this holiday season and throughout the year.

Merry Christmas, coffee companions, and have a wonderful day.

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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