If I close my eyes I can still see Jane’s cute pixie face with its porcelain complexion, her thick, shiny auburn hair, and her sweet smile.  We were both RNs and we worked at a medical clinic.  When I first met her we were float nurses – meaning that we “floated” to whatever area of the clinic we were needed. We often found ourselves at lunch together and I came to know more about her over those lunches.  Jane had graduated from Wake Forest University and was not only a Registered Nurse but also held a Master’s Degree in nursing.  I wondered why she wasn’t doing more than float nursing but I never asked. I supposed she figured there was still plenty of time to pursue something more involved. I learned that she had two darling children and it was clear they were her focus in life.  Her husband was a handsome, successful attorney and they had a beautiful home in a nice section of the city. They belonged to a Country Club where they golfed and played tennis.  She drove a late model Mercedes sedan.  The truth was, she didn’t need to work. I figured she did it mostly because she liked people and she liked being helpful.  Frankly, I was a little jealous of her picture perfect life.  But I couldn’t help but like Jane. She was just a sweet as could be – a really good person and easy to be with.  She was also smart and well read. I enjoyed conversing with her and she kept my reading list exciting. 

Eventually, I accepted a full-time position in the Oncology Department. Jane continued to work as a float nurse and because of that I continued to see her whenever she floated to my area of the clinic. However, in this new perspective I came to have a different opinion of Jane. Whenever nurses put in for vacation or personal leave someone from the Float Pool would be contacted and asked to fill in for that requested time off. Those working in the department where the absence would occur were advised by weekly schedule who would be the replacement. In these cases, float nurses knew well in advance when and where they would be working.  I came to dread seeing Jane’s name as a substitute in our department for she was invariably late and if the stint was as long as a week you could almost bet that she would be absent at least one of those days – she seemed plagued with headaches and stomach upsets more than normal folks.  Being short staffed put a burden on everyone – more work, little to no break throughout the day, and generally working over-time – which led to exhaustion and frayed nerves. As much as I liked Jane as a person, I came to dislike her as a workmate. I can recall one incident in particular when she was scheduled to work alongside me. Our workday was already overbooked and I had arrived extra early to make sure things went as smoothly as they possibly could.  When the workday began there was no sign of Jane and I was annoyed.  Fifteen minutes into the day I received a call from Jane saying that she was not feeling well and wouldn’t be in.  I listened to her excuse and was chewing on my lip trying not to say anything I would regret. I breathed an audible sigh of impatience, which I am certain Jane correctly interpreted and, therefore, felt the need to embellish on the reason for her absence:

“Well, I was feeling nauseous this morning and so I took half of a Phenergan and now I’m just so tired and sleepy,” she whined. 

(For those of you that are not nurses, Phenergan is a prescription strength antiemetic/antihistamine often used to control nausea and vomiting. Its side effect is drowsiness.)  I felt a flush of anger and silently questioned her lack of judgment.  I mean, really?!  Like she hadn’t considered that this would be a side effect?  Why hadn’t she tried saltines, ginger ale, or Pepto-Bismol if she had really been planning to come in to work as she was claiming?  To say I was irritated would be an understatement.  I took a breath and said something like, “well, we want you at your best when you’re taking care of patients.”  But I confess that I probably did not say it as nice as I could have and we ended the call briskly.  Although she appeared in the clinic the next day and I was grateful, I still felt bothered by what I perceived as general irresponsible behavior.  In a later conversation with the Director of Nurses at the clinic, I realized that other staff shared my view of Jane.  Somehow this gave me permission to feel righteous and superior to her.  I saw myself as hardworking and dedicated. I saw Jane as undependable and fickle. Even though I would never have admitted my own feeling of superiority and my self-righteous judgment of Jane I can see it very clearly in retrospect.

Then came the morning when I arrived to the clinic, picked up the schedule and saw Jane’s name listed for my department. I inwardly groaned and prepared myself for whatever might come.  Eight o’clock came and no Jane. At half past the hour there was still no Jane and when I was paged I steeled myself to hear whatever excuse she was planning to offer.  Instead it was the Director of Nursing asking if Jane had arrived.  When I said “no” I could almost hear her eyes rolling and then she promised that if Jane had not arrived by nine she would try to send someone to cover for her by at least ten o’clock. And that is what happened.  When the new float nurse arrived I got her up to speed and we carried on with the already busy day. When I got to work the next day the Director of Nursing called me to her office.  I figured Jane wasn’t coming in again and we would be discussing a plan.  When I saw the Director’s face I knew it was something more serious but I had no idea what.  I cannot remember her words but somehow she conveyed that Jane had committed suicide the previous morning.  It seems that after her children left for school she went into her garage, got into her car, started the engine, and let it run until she died from asphyxiation.  Unfortunately, her children found her when they returned home from school that afternoon.  Jane had been dying while the Director of Nursing and I were feeling annoyed with her.  Now I was stunned and I knew the Director was, too.  I don’t know if there were tears in that moment but I know they came later.  I went back to work that day and went through all the motions necessary to make things happen but my thoughts were on Jane.  I wondered what on earth could have been so terrible in her life that would make her want to end it.  I wondered if my attitude contributed to whatever deep sadness she had felt.  I knew logically that I had played no part in her death but it didn’t feel like that.  I sat in my car that evening before going home thinking of Jane. And the tears came. I cried for her loneliness. I cried for her children. I cried for all those people who are hurting and cannot be comforted.  I cried for myself – for my selfishness, for my careless judgment, for my mean spirit.  And I vowed to remember Jane and the best lesson she ever taught – that you can never, ever know what people are going through. Sometimes they are in a private hell that you know nothing about.  Many years have passed since that day. Yet Jane is still there reminding me quietly to grant grace to others – no matter what things look like from the outside because you really just don’t know…


  1. Thanks for sharing this. It definitely caught my attention. Let’s follow our blogs. Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and following.


  2. heimdalco says:

    AMEN to everything you said at the end. We never know what others are dealing with, especially in the emotional & mental health arena. There are so many ways to reach out & it makes the situation even more tragic when those effected do not.

    In your defense, however … & from my many, many years as an OR RN that was very often in charge of running the department … hospitals & nursing units are notoriously short staffed. It’s a fact of daily nursing life. When we are the responsible person in charge, being short even one warm body is a terrible burden. I know from your relating of it the stress you felt confronted with a specific employee that was chronically late or absent. What we deal with as nurses in leadership positions is not only stressful but we know that every employee, for whatever reason, that doesn’t show up to work, compromises the lives of the patients in our care. And THAT HAS TO BE our primary focus. Your reaction was the most normal one in that situation for a well-trained, responsible professional.

    Apparently Jane was quite adept at disguising her emotional challenges & appearing to lack a solid work ethic. Had you & your colleagues had even an inkling of how troubled she was, I know beyond a doubt (because I have the same mind set & skill set) that you would have rushed to help her. It’s what we do & who we are.

    The fact that the memories of that event & that special nurse not only have stayed with you, but help guide you in your approach to others is a testimony to your character & your concern. Sometimes we just miss a symptom or a diagnosis because we are human. It doesn’t stop us from being God’s most caring people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are uniquely qualified to understand the feelings I had toward my co-worker. And, of course, I would have interacted differently had I had an inkling of her despair. Nevertheless, this incident caught me completely by surprise and unnerved me! As time passes I think we all revert back to a natural reactions and since I expect a lot from myself I tend to expect the same from others. I try to keep dear Jane and her story alive in my mind and heart to remind me that I should never expect others to react as I think they should – everyone has their own reality. If others disappoint me, I try to BE KIND – above all. Thank YOU for granting me grace and making me sound better than I really am. Unfortunately, I struggle with this thing called being human. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. catterel says:

    This tragic story reminds me of an event in my own life, many years ago when I was teaching. I had a colleague whose students were forever rioting and he had no control over them. The noise from his classroom next to mine annoyed me intensely, and I was very impatient with him, very critical and probably rather arrogant towards him. One day on his way to work he jumped off a very high bridge and died. Too late, I realised that I could have been more sympathetic and should have tried to help him instead of despising him. As you say, we never know what others are going through – and his hell wasn’t really so very private..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, my! What a tragic story. And your experience was, indeed, quite similar to mine – and it brings me to a complete understanding of how you were left feeling about your co-worker as well as yourself. If I could hug you, I would – so just imagine that I’m doing that. I suspect that this incident impacted you deeply. Bless you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. catterel says:

        Thank you, Linda! Hug reciprocated!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You are full of grace, Linda.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are too kind, my dear.


  5. Dan Gordon says:

    Awsome. Great food for thought and how we need to think as we travel thru life . Never judge unless you walk a mile in their shoes.
    Very well done !

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A painful story to read. One third of the way through, I had a feeling that something sorrowful was going to emerge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately, as it played out in real life I never saw it coming and it unsettled me for quite a while. It still makes me sad to think of her. I like to think that she lives on in the lesson and now in sharing this story. Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. quiall says:

    We can never know what another is dealing with just as they can never know what we’re dealing with. It is also true that we can never know how good we made another feel just by being in their presence. Never forget that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another good reminder. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Judy says:

    That’s a gracious reminder for all of us. Thank you for the nudge to be our better selves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a lesson learned hard and now heavy in my heart forever.


  9. Celia Hales says:

    I delayed reading this, and maybe I knew “Jane” was going to be very sad. I always read your posts, and I felt your pain in writing this. But you are not to blame, and I hope you don’t carry that burden of Jane’s suicide.

    Being impatient with her over the phone would not have led to her action. She undoubtedly had been contemplating this for a long time.

    I’m so sorry.

    Love, Celia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Initially the shock of this situation overwhelmed me and, owning my unkind feelings toward her, riddled me with guilt. I felt I had contributed to her dark place. Fortunately, I pulled myself out of that mire. I had enough mental health education in my training to recognize that her depression belonged to her alone. However, it was a hard lesson in the silent suffering of others. I try to remember that kindness is always the best response. I appreciate your empathy and consolation. Most sincerely, Linda


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.