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Authors

  1. Ryan, Michael MS, RN

Article Content

I first met Cheryl McGaffic, RN, when she was the volunteer nurse advocate for a local AIDS service organization. It was not easy. We met to discuss ongoing safety concerns between one of her clients and members of our hospice interdisciplinary team. After a challenging exchange of opinions, Cheryl was able to appreciate the hesitation I had in returning to a home where I feared for my safety, and I was able to appreciate her fierce advocacy for a nonfunded patient who had depleted many of his healthcare options. As is often the case in end-of-life care, the death of one relationship brought about the birth of a new one.

 

Our paths were to cross again 3 years later when Cheryl was completing her doctoral dissertation. She sought participants from our hospice for her study entitled "Patterns of Spirituality and Health Among Aging Adults and Dying Adults in the Community." She was patient and understanding with our hospice team when we expressed concern over the vulnerability of our patients and their families, and the potential intrusiveness of her presence in an intimate process. She convinced us of her respect for our patients and our fears, and many dying participants from our hospice commented on the healing effect of their interactions with Cheryl. In her dissertation Cheryl acknowledged the importance of identifying individual spiritual resources for both aging and dying people in the delivery of nursing care. She was appointed to the faculty of the College of Nursing at the University of Arizona shortly after her graduation in 1995.

 

Occasionally we would see each other at association gatherings, committee meetings, or as guest lecturers in each other's classes. Dr McGaffic graciously allowed me to use her data in a secondary analysis for my master's degree and sat on my thesis committee. Cheryl was tough: she cared for her data and the scientific process as she cared for her patients and students. She challenged me on the role of the nurse in providing spiritual care ("it's not just a matter of making a referral to chaplain services anymore"), was rigorous in maintaining a scholarly approach, and demanding in her expectations of academic excellence.

 

In her intensive care unit clinicals, Dr McGaffic was adamant that her students' care and documentation reflect a holistic approach to their patients' needs. She was a role model for patient advocacy, emphasized the importance of evidence-based nursing practice, and challenged her students to go beyond traditional nursing boundaries in the assessment of the critically ill individual. She was an unwavering proponent of hospice care, and had no hesitation in approaching physicians and hospital staff about the need for the delivery of appropriate palliative care to dying patients in the nonhospice setting. Students have commented that the class she taught on death and dying helped many of them resolve issues of loss in their personal lives.

 

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Cheryl wrote a piece, a poem really, that reflected her perceptions of working in the nursing profession during a time of national tragedy. The Arizona Daily Star posthumously published the piece on November 4, 2002, 1 week after the shootings took place at the College of Nursing. In it Cheryl writes, "My heart is naked" as she contemplates the dichotomy of overwhelming sadness and profound joy that defines the emotionality of working as a nurse and an instructor. The ironies of this tragedy are many, profound, and confusing.

 

I thank you, Cheryl, and our slain colleagues, for your contributions-both personal and professional. I will carry you in my naked heart.