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Hospice nurse forges powerful, unexpected friendship in patient’s final months

Queen Mae Butters
Queen Mae Butters shared the story of an unexpected friendship she made while working as a hospice care nurse for a dying woman in New York.

This story originally aired on June 29, 2019.

Queen Mae Butters was panting her way up six flights of stairs, just about ready to turn around and find someone else to take the job.

"Then I hear Rose's twangy New York accent encourage me from above: 'You're going to make it nurse! You're almost here! Keep climbing!'" Butters said. 

At the time, Rose had been diagnosed with liver cancer, refused treatment, and was given two months to live. Butters was a hospice care nurse. Her job was to make sure Rose lived out the rest of her days in comfort — making sure she took her medication, went to the bathroom, and ate to keep up her energy.  

Between the minutiae of daily care, Butters learned about parts of Rose's life she wasn't around for. 

"She told me stories that came and went depending on where she was drinking," Butters said. That includes the time Rose says she entered into a fake marriage, so a Brazilian man could gain citizenship. "He got his green card, she got $5,000," Butters recalled. "Their friendship ended, she said, because they had a fight. Rose says, 'Can't remember what the fight was about. I'm not good at fixing things once I get mad.'"

Butters described her unexpected friendship at a live storytelling event in Seattle earlier this month. In recounting those brief months with Rose, Butters touches on one of the hardest parts about working in hospice care: saying goodbye.

"I'm always at a loss at what to say in these instances because I don't know what is comforting," Butters said. Listen above to hear her share her full story.

This story was featured in a live event co-produced by Sound Effect and the Seattle-based storytelling series Fresh Ground Stories. Listen to more stories from the event in this episode, and in future installments of Sound Effect.