I choked in a breath of air as I pushed open the door to the smoke room. In the far corner of the room I could barely make out my coworker. I moved across the room and sat in the cold chair next to her. A cigarette occupied the space between her full lips. She sat slumped over her phone, with her elbows on her knees.
The cheery pink hearts all over her scrubs seemed to give the appearance that nothing was wrong. I sat watching her and waiting for her to answer my unasked question. Her eyes never left her phone. She sat puffing and scrolling.
I had the unspoken answer I needed.
My pocket buzzed. One of the residents had turned on her call light.
I sighed, “I’ve got it.”
She grunted in response.
I walked out of the smoke room and down the wheelchair ramp to the caller’s hallway. I saw her wheeling down the hallway with blankets in her lap. Her two pigtails drooped. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and dripping onto her mickey mouse T-shirt.
My heart melted as I knelt next to her chair.
“Why did she have to die, Abby?”
She looked at me quietly for a moment and a fresh batch of tears began to fall, “I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.”
She clung to me as we hugged, and tears began dripping down my cheeks as well.
“I’m going to miss her, too.”
I’d never forget the first time I’d given the deceased resident a shower. While I rubbed suds on the bottoms of her feet, she’d asked me if I enjoyed being a CNA. I replied with an emphatic yes. She’d sat for a bit quiet before finally responding, “Abby, don’t let yourself get close to the people you take care of.”
She’d then told me stories from her own forty years of CNA experience.
The wheelchair bound resident and I cried for a bit more, then my pocket buzzed again. I rolled her into her room and set the blankets on her bed. I wiped off my tears and moved on to help the next resident.
After work I sat in the car and blared my music. My heart felt crushed, like the coke cans in my grandpa’s garage. I was too tired to cry.
That was the third death I’d experienced in a period of four days.