I have a guest post from another nurse who knows about grief first hand. Nurses sit along side families as their family passes on and no one realizes the emotional attachment that each nurses carries. I have held many hands of my patients as they passed on. I can still remember some of their faces, the conversation we had and the things they wanted others to know before they passed. It was an honor to be in the presence of those patients.
My guest shares her grief story very well. Leave her a comment at the bottom of this post.
Be amazing someone needs you.
Nurses Grieve Too
by Maureen Hunter
As a nurse one of our greatest gifts is our compassion. The ability to care for others that enables us to give fully of who we are in our profession.
Each day we live our compassion as we are invited and privy to the intimacies of life that so many are denied. It is a privilege and a passion. We are with people at the very beginnings of life and at the very end in death. We support families, we love children; we become advocates and champions for those who need our help. We endure much in the name of being a nurse and in the people we are. We strive to be all that we can be in our doing for others and we are touched in ways that we never imagined.
We are touched not only by life but also deeply by death. We are taught to be there for people in need, for families and for friends. We give all that we can to help people transition from this life to the next yet in the process we very rarely consider us.
Were you taught about keeping a professional distance about not getting too close to your patients? I know as a nurse for many years I was. It is certainly an important consideration but let us balance that with a heart that beats and a heart that cares.
When our patients die we often think as nurses the impact of their death will not affect us too deeply, after all we are nurses. We have professional boundaries that safeguard us from feeling the loss of a patient. That may not always be so. Never underestimate the living you have done with your patients. Never underestimate how much you have shared, as you looked after them. The gamut of emotions likely experienced with so few. The extremes of life you have been part and parcel and very privileged to be a part of. You have touched their life immeasurably but they touched yours also.
As we live our compassion through our hearts, we step over the thresholds of their environments and into their lives. It can be such a gift to be invited into and part of another’s life. For many years worked as a hospice nurse caring for people at home. When they invited me into their home to care for their dying spouse or family member, I took a step forward, not just over the threshold of their home but into their lives. It was such a gift to be there. I was doing my job but I was giving them much more than just my nursing skills and knowledge. I was making myself fully present to where they were in their world. When they died I was there to support them and in so doing recognized how they touched my life. I was not immune from the impact of such significance gone from my life. I acknowledged it and felt it.
Grief comes to nurses through the connection that happens when we care for our patients. It is especially so if we feel a deep connection with them in some way or become part of their life for many weeks, months and years. We cannot help but develop genuine and authentic relationships with those we care for, and for many of us that care will be intense depending on their needs.
Then one day our routine, our role, our bond has gone. They are gone. There is a void, an emptiness that comes upon us and somehow we try to dismiss it, it bothers us, and surprises us. It is a natural thing to miss them, to feel that loss yet it is not one we openly discuss. We somehow feel less for having a heart, as if as nurses we shouldn’t have, not now anyway.
In our careers we will experience the full brunt of suffering and death in so many different ways. There may be times when this will trigger our own losses, previous or imagined. It is very easy to put ourselves in the place of another and relive the whole events of our own losses if we have been in a similar situation ourselves. If we have lost a father to cancer, our grief can bubble up and be triggered again if we are nursing a patient with a similar diagnosis, of similar age and characteristics to our own father.
When I was nearing the end of my nursing training I was in the Head Injuries Unit when a young man was brought in with life threatening trauma. Following an argument with his wife he had got in his car and hit a tree head on. He never regained consciousness and died soon after. At the time I could relate so deeply to this young couple. My husband and I were of a similar age and his death and the impact of that loss on his family touched me deeply. I grieved for the perceived loss such a thing would mean for my own family and how I would reel from such a tragedy.
There becomes an intermingling which is useful to acknowledge and be alert to. There is no shame in feeling how we feel and being vulnerable. We are nurses but we are human and we will be touched by life as we nurse and as we live.
As you can be open about your own experiences you can begin to develop within your organisation a positive culture that recognizes the impact of such grief on health professionals and better supports you to be all that you can be.