A Small Act Of Grace

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When Maureen O'Rourke's father was dying from Alzheimer's, she vowed to stay with him until the end. After pneumonia set in, death seemed imminent. But days turned into weeks, and Maureen found herself utterly drained. The day before her birthday, she contemplated leaving her father's side. A gesture from a nurse gave her the strength to stay the night.

Maureen tells her story as part of WBUR's Kind World.

MAUREEN O’ROURKE: My dad was a typical Massachusetts Irishman. Very stubborn, very opinionated, but also very emotional. Over time we noticed that his mental capacity was clearly slipping and it became obvious that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

My mom diligently cared for him — did everything for him — and it was becoming more and more difficult. My dad developed pneumonia and was taken to the hospital. I had talked with my dad when he wasn’t so cognitively impaired about what his last wishes were, and he did not want to be on a ventilator or have feeding tubes. So, instantly they wanted to transfer him to a nursing home, and the long-term care there was just wonderful.

The next few weeks, my dad started hallucinating, and he was gasping for air all the time, so I called in the hospice team. And it appeared that my dad was going to peacefully pass on within a day or two. Weeks later, I’m basically living at the nursing home. Napping in a chair. Attending to all of his physical needs. Holding his hand. And he’s just gasping, gasping.

But — he just keeps hanging on. Nothing to eat, nothing to drink, but he’s just not going anywhere. And we’re jokingly telling him “Uncle Ed’s waitin’ for ya…he’s got a tee time.” But he wasn’t going anywhere.

So after over three weeks of this, I was just spent. I had a lot of support from my younger brother, my cousins, my friends were texting me all the time. But it just isn’t enough to sustain you. I was exhausted physically and emotionally, and — though I had promised him that he would not die alone, though I would be with him, not to be afraid, that I would stay with him until the end — I was beginning to think that this was not possible.

This one particular evening I was thinking, “This is it.” I couldn’t do it anymore. The next day was my birthday, and I was trying to figure out how to tell my dad, “You know, I love you. I’m sorry, I know I made this promise, but I just can’t really keep it.” This nurse came in who was going home, and she was leaving for the evening. She came in to say goodbye to me and she slipped me this little brown bag. And in it was a small bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. And she said “This is just for you. You know, maybe you could drink this and you’ll be able to get a little sleep tonight.”

She went and got this herself. This had nothing to do with work. This was just a human connection. Whatever the reason, it meant that she saw that I was suffering, too, that it was difficult for me, and, the long and the short of it is: I drank my Bailey’s Irish Cream that night, I stayed with my dad, it was a very, very difficult night, and my dad died at 7:00 in the morning.

I don’t think it was until after my dad had died that it really struck me. Without that small gesture of kindness from this nurse, I probably would have left that night, and my dad would have died alone. That seemingly small gesture was incredibly important to me, and is something that I won’t ever forget.

Has someone changed your life? How did you get through a dark time? We want to hear your story of kindness. Please send us a message or email us at

Kind World is a project of the WBUR iLab that explores the profound effect one act can have on our lives. It's produced by Zack Ezor, Lisa Tobin, and Nate Goldman.

This segment aired on November 6, 2014.

Zack Ezor Producer
Zack Ezor was formerly a producer for WBUR.



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