Four years ago, our oldest son became buddies with another little boy at his daycare and my husband and I quickly became close friends with his parents. The mom was from northeast Nebraska, like me, and we have that bond from each growing up in farming families.
The first time we went over to their home I noticed a very large painting of the Nebraska farming countryside. I was drawn to it, as it felt very familiar to me.
In time, it would mean more than I could have known …
Michael Middleton was admitted to our service in July 2015 as a metastatic lung cancer patient. He was very reserved, quiet, calm and a very gentle soul. He hoped to regain his strength to be able to start treatment and always had the goal of beating cancer. He was always very optimistic, positive and didn’t talk much about death or dying in the first month or two.
As the weeks went by I could see him becoming weaker and weaker, eating less and less and losing weight. He didn’t seem to notice those things, and remained impressively positive and optimistic. I admired this about him and how he and his family were so close as they held strong day to day.
One day when Kathy and I helped him onto a scale, it revealed a dramatic weight loss. At that moment, he realized he wouldn’t be getting better. As he and Kathy held hands and wept, he asked me if it was now time to focus on comfort instead of beating the cancer.
His final weeks were spent with many visitors, family and friends and he remained, as always, gracious and thankful. Mike wasn’t able to say much at the end, but he gave me a wink one Friday after I told him to behave himself over the weekend. He passed on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, with his family at his side in the home he built with the love of his life. It was a tough loss for me and other members of our team who admired his kind spirit.
It was now mid-October and we were again at our friends’ home having a play date with the kids. I was inside helping get food ready when I, as usual, gazed at the well-liked painting longer than a normal person would.
This time, I noticed something I hadn’t before. In the corner, the was the artist signature read “Middleton.” When I calmly asked my friend where she got the painting, she said her husband had it painted as a gift for her. He had taken some of her family farming photos to a local artist about five years earlier and this was the product.
I already was full of goosebumps and the hair on the back of my neck stood up when her husband confirmed what my gut already had figured out: My patient did, in fact, paint their painting, which they had said is the most beloved piece of decoration in their home.
I contacted Mike’s widow Kathy a week or so later and told her the story. I showed her a photo of the painting in their house and she said she knew which one it was before I even showed her. She remembered when Mike was working on it; it was one of his favorite paintings he did.
It’s amazing how things can remind you of people who have gone. Every time I am in their home and see that painting, it’s like he is giving me a wink from Heaven. I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to because of blessings like this.
This article originally appeared in Everyday Compassion magazine. To browse full issues of the magazine, click here.