“Don’t throw out the old bread. Please, save it for me,” Rachel
requested. “At the picnic in the park last Saturday, we watched the
birds vacuum up the leftover crumbs. It was so neat, Mom! The
birds were just like you when you vacuum the dirty carpet.”
“That’s an interesting comparison,” Mom replied.
Rachel was left-handed. The pediatrician explained that she
might have a propensity for seeing things in artistic and creative
ways. Left-handed people were often different in ways like that.
Rachel was often seen sitting on the front porch of the
house, methodically tossing small pieces of old bread to the
waiting, hungry birds.
Breezy days were her favorite days. The colors and aromas
wafting by as she threw the bread pieces were exquisite. Rachel
made a game of it. Aim the smaller pieces at the small birds and
the bigger pieces at the large birds. She never kept score, though,
as there was always a mad scattering by them to grab what they
could, from wherever they could.
Shortly after her ninth birthday, Rachel heard the phone ring
from the front porch. She could sense the sobbing throughout her
body and felt an impending sadness coming on.
“Rachel, please get yourself ready. Wash your face and put
on a nice dress. Your Grandma is in the hospital and the doctor
explained that she was very sick,” Mom instructed with great
concern in her voice.
Grandma was Rachel’s only living grandparent. Maternal.
The trip to the hospital was very quiet. Mom said very little
and she looked worried.
Rachel sensed the growing fear.
Upon reaching Room 304 at the hospital, Mom knocked
gently on the door.
An unfamiliar voice responded.
“Come in. Please, do come in,” the voice invited.
Mom and Rachel entered gently.
“How is she?” Mom asked.
“She’s sleeping now. She fades in and out,” Nurse Carol
“When she wakes, I’m sure she will recognize you. You will
realize it just by looking in her eyes. Talk to her, she can probably
hear you. Her doctor won’t be back in until tomorrow morning. I
can contact him if you have specific questions.”
Rachel just stood in a frozen position. She knew something
very bad was well in progress.
That’s when she smelled it. Very unusual and very alluring.
Thick, pungent. Something new to her. Never before had she
experienced a smell like this. Mom and Nurse Carol did not seem
to be aware of it.
After a few minutes, Grandma became restless and opened
her eyes. Later, Mom said that she felt Grandma knew they were
Mom sobbed off and on during the trip home. This trip back
was just as quiet.
The next morning, Mom picked up the ringing phone and
almost immediately started to cry.
Rachel now had no surviving grandparents.
Rachel would often think about her Grandma as she fed the
Grandma had liked birds, too.
Rachel did well in college. She had trouble with Math and
Physics, but earned good grades in Biology and the Health
Sciences. She decided to pursue a Nursing Degree with a specialty
The experience with visiting her Grandma had made an
imprint on her.
A few years ago, Mom had explained to her that Grandma
had succumbed to stage 3 colon cancer.
As part of her four-year curriculum, Rachel spent time at the
local hospital. It served as a clinical site for training those in the
R.N. training program.
During the third week, Rachel had been caring for a young
man with late stage lymphoma. While in the room, a familiar smell
swelled into her nostrils. She recognized it. She had smelled it
once before! She knew!
Upon entering his room on the next day, he was not there:
only an empty bed!
Rachel had smelled death for the second time in her life.
As the stresses of her first job became manifest, Rachel
found refuge in feeding the birds, the little vacuum cleaners.
Think, as well.
Grandma would be pleased.
Then, another similar situation presented itself.
Rachel was assigned to a new patient who was a victim of a
bad car accident. She had been declared brain dead. The young
woman had indicated on her driver’s license that she desired to be
an organ donor, if possible.
The young woman qualified.
Rachel entered her room to check on her for the first time.
The jolt shook her. It was something she never anticipated to
She was Gail Perlman. Gail was in her Anatomy class. They
had been lab partners!!
Gail was being kept alive on life support until the organ
harvest team would arrive by helicopter.
Gail’s husband, Paul, was driving to the hospital to sign the
official papers for the release of the body.
Paul arrived shortly with tears in his eyes. Tears dripped
onto the paperwork as Rachel held the clipboard for him.
The harvest team wheeled Gail out of the room to the
operating room for the organ harvest.
Time was of the essence.
Rachel was in dire need for a break.
She grabbed her wrapped sandwich and headed for the
doors to the open air.
Time to feed the birds.
Bring in the little vacuums!
Strip off the bread from the sandwich.
It’s the way of nature!
This goes on all the time. Every day, every hour . . .
Big fish constantly gobble up little fish.
“Vultures are ugly! What do they do?” Rachel once asked.
“Rachel,” Mom answered. “They may be ugly, but they are so
efficient at cleaning up for us.”
“Just like all the little lizards and iguanas you see in Miami,
they also clean things up by eating all the little bugs,” Mom said.
So, then, everything has it’s own sort of vacuum?” Rachel
“I guess one could say that,” Mom said pensively. “That is
pretty well true.”
Sixteen years later, Rachel’s mother was also swept up and
taken away. Rachel knew it was imminent. She could smell it
coming! Mom was waiting for it and even welcomed it.
Humans usually can’t put a face on the vacuum that takes
Maybe that is a blessing?
Think about it . . .
A few years later, Rachel was feeling ill. She noticed the lump
within her left breast. There was also a lump in her left armpit. Not
a good sign in themselves, but together, a very bad sign.
Metastatic breast cancer, stage 3.
Rachel chose not to fight it.
Instead, she would feed the birds. Think of Grandma . . .
Rachel would accept her destiny and embrace it with
The vacuum this time swept her up with ease on a Saturday
afternoon. She relaxed and prepared for it.
After all, she smelled it coming!
She accepted her time with grace and without fear.
It was a good day to slip away.
It was after all, a part of nature, just like the birds and the