Dealing with death is an unfortunate reality in the nursing profession; in fact, it is near-inevitable.
Whether it is expected or unexpected, preparing yourself to deal with death is a wise choice. This is one of those moments where you can make a huge difference as a nurse for the family and the patient. Being caught unprepared for this situation will only prevent you from the being the impactful nurse we all strive to be.
How to Deal with Death as a Nurse:
Ease Their Way
When you have a patient on hospice or comfort care, you have the opportunity to ease their way to the end. Help this end come as comfortably as possible. Many young nurses are afraid to give too much pain medication because they don’t want to “be the one” to put the patient over the top. Moderation is good in many instances, but not at the expense of a painful passing.
Support the Support
If a patient is expected to pass, there is a decent chance that many family members will be present. You are now not only the nurse for your patient but also for the family. In my experience, they often don’t need much, just to know that there is a caring nurse around the corner who is willing to help when needed.
Give Space, Give Time
When a patient finally does pass, give the family time to mourn and grieve in the room. Many families have religious or cultural practices that they’d like to do and interrupting that can be awkward. You will be called in to listen to breaths and heartbeats to confirm the death, but avoid doing much more in the room than that until the family is ready.
These are just a few tips that I have gathered in my role as a nurse dealing with death. In my experience, this is one of the most impactful moments we have as nurses. Think about all the memories, friends, and families that this person has made and touched. Even if they are alone for the death, you can be that last friend. Hold their hand, talk to them even if they aren’t responding, and rise up to the moment. This is nursing.