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  • Writer's pictureSarah Gibbs Underhill


Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Back when I was in my teens and crewing on large piratical looking sailboats, I was given a nickname by the figurehead carver. He called me "The Valkyrie", after the Scandinavian warrior goddesses who ride flying horses in the sky above battlefields, choosing the heroes who would join the gods in Valhalla as a reward for their courage. I got the name mainly for my looks and attitude I suppose, as I was robust and Nordic looking and often wore my hair in braids as I went swooping around the rigging.

But what a Valkyrie actually is, is someone who taps you on the shoulder to tell you, or remind you, that you are going to die soon. According to legend the tappee then returns to the struggle with renewed vigor for the fight, savoring the last moments of the battle.

And now I have become a Valkyrie or Banshee, a harbinger of death, as a Hospice nurse. Often an unwelcome visitor at first, understandably. People don't want to see me arrive. But they learn to like me, accept me, even look forward to seeing me. Part of my job is taking away some of the fear and loneliness of making that last long journey to the shores of the Styx. Certainly to relieve any suffering along the way. I cause large bottles of highly concentrated morphine to arrive on people's doorsteps, and that , along with a few other simple ingredients, can ease the path. That's what I like to do. Encourage people, give them courage, ease pain and fear.

Last night I dreamed that I was explaining to a fearful young man what kind of nursing I do, and, smiling broadly, I quipped that "Everyone comes to me in the end," spreading my arms wide and beckoning with all appearances of a joyful welcome. "But not yet, not yet", I added as if to soften the implications of the offered embrace.

I hope that I can bring to people not fear and dread, but the fierce enjoyment of life, the desire to appreciate and experience and live life to the fullest after they receive the Valkyrie's touch.

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