Yesterday I took a walk back in time, to my student nursing days at Riverside-White Cross Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. I'd recently been contacted by a former classmate who was gathering data and searching for former students in order to organize a gathering for the 45th (I can't believe it either) anniversary of graduation from nursing school. She emailed a list of those people she'd found and the summations of their lives after graduation. I read every classmate's summation and then had a good cry. Why cry? Because we were so young, straight out of high school, and had high hopes and pie-in-the-sky dreams for how we were going to help people and change the world - at least in our little corners of it, but we'd gone separate ways. Many of my classmates had lost their husbands. Some had changed professions or retired from nursing. Many had interrupted their careers to raise children, and quite a few had achieved advanced degrees and were still working but hoping to soon retire.
We all have hopes and dreams, but then reality hits us square in the face and though some dreams are realized, many are not. I don't consider unfulfilled dreams as life failures, but rather interventions of realities like marriage, children, illnesses, crises, and family losses along the way. Many of those things cannot be avoided, but some are due to decisions we make ourselves. I wondered how my life might have been different had I been able to take an R.N. position at Riverside after graduation, as many of my classmates had. That's where I'd wanted to work, but Spouse had lived and worked in Dayton, Ohio, so after we married (just prior to my graduation) and after his Army days were over, he whisked me away from what I knew, to the place he knew. It was the way things were done back then. Women followed their husbands. Still, I do wonder how different life might have been had I lived and worked in the town where I was raised and where my family continued to reside. I would have been at a familiar hospital among people I'd known since my days as a Candy Striper.
At the end of the classmates' summations was the list of those we had lost to death. I'm not sure why that stunned me, but it did. I know death is as much a part of life as birth, yet these were girls I'd lived with for years. We were dorm neighbors and friends. We had worked together, studied together, taken tests together, eaten meals together, laughed together, and cried together. We had supported each other when boyfriends had been sent to Viet Nam, or family members had passed, or when we were just sure we had failed important exams. During our years in nursing school, we had tragically lost two classmates - one had taken her own life there in the dorm, and the other had died in a sledding accident over Christmas break in our junior year. Those losses were jarring to all of us, but even after all these years, learning about further losses had stung. One friend had passed just a few years after graduation. I couldn't comprehend that she had done all that studying, spent all those hours working on the patient floors, worried and fretted about getting through....only to live such a short time afterward. It was more than I could process yesterday and I had a bit of a meltdown.
Today is better, and I know I can't go back or change anything from the past. I'm grateful for the time spent with those girls - now grown women - though at times I wished I had been anywhere but there in the dorms. As students, we often mused about being married, living in cozy little houses, cooking, cleaning, and washing dishes. We thought that would surely make us happier than being in a dorm or working in the hospital or studying until the wee hours. How naïve could we have been?
These are some graduation photos from one of our yearbook pages. I'm the first one on the left in the second row. How young we were. I wonder why nurses don't wear caps anymore? We earned those!