Once upon a time, many years ago, while working on night shift, my colleague and I cared for a hospice patient who was very ill. Pale and fragile, she waited for death. We were providing comfort care for her—moistening her lips, checking her pain level, and relieving as much of her discomfort as possible. We smoothed her sheets, rubbed her back and changed her position frequently.
One night while we were caring for her, she stated she couldn’t get comfortable. Her sheets felt lumpy and wrinkled. As we gently moved her back and forth, trying to find a comfortable position, she joked in her soft, almost silent voice that she must be like the “princess and the pea” and could feel anything in her bed. We replied that we had heard of the story as children, but vaguely remembered it. She was surprised that we didn’t know the fairy tale, but she was too weak and drained to say anymore.
As days passed, we saw her condition deteriorating, though she still greeted us with a weak smile as we cared for her. One night, she held our hands and pointed to her nightstand and whispered, “Something for you.” She had for each of us a story called The Princess and the Pea. She smiled and we thanked her. We went back to the nurses’ station with tears in our eyes and read that story. We could not imagine that in her weakened state that she even remembered us, or the story. She had her family find the story and bring in two copies for us.
She became less responsive as time went on—no smiles to share, no more soft whispers. We came into work one evening only to discover she had succumbed to the cancer with her family at her bedside.
I have kept The Princess and the Pea in my locker for all of these years in remembrance of her kindness in her last days.