I have seen all kinds of dying. I see it as a part of life most people overlook––in a sense. Maybe that will not make any sense to the average person. Maybe that is a good thing? I don’t know. I know people who have worked with dying patients may relate and I know people who have faced illness may relate. Really, why else would you think of death as such?
I remember my first death as a nurse. It was a peaceful death. It was expected. It was awkward being the one responsible for checking for the lack of vital signs. I remembered the rule of listening for a heartbeat for a full minute, the longest minute of my life, as all eyes of the family members were on me. I felt their tears on hold…justing waiting for the words before they burst out. The hardest part was getting the words out of my mouth. I couldn’t wait to get of the room so I could breathe.
I cannot recall how many deaths I have seen since. I’ve grown accustomed to every part of it. I know how to talk to a family and the patient of the impending outcome. I know how to explain (gently) why the body does not need the food the family insists on giving. I know when to stay in the room and I know when to give the family space. I am so good at death that I sometimes can see it coming just by a smell, by a subtle change in the skin, and by a look of the eyes.
Although I may have grown accustomed to the process, it is never easy to say goodbye to a patient and it is even harder to watch a family have to say goodbye to their loved one. I have shed many tears with family members––something I could not do at first. I had a very wise nurse tell me one time that it was okay to cry with the families from time to time. I took that advice because sometimes patients and their family become like family. I have gathered most of my wisdom of life from being a part of the last days of people’s life. I have learned what truly matters in life because of them.
I wish I could give some specific examples of what I have seen; I have seen some crazy things. There is something of a personal level that I do not feel comfortable sharing. It is not my story to blurt out on a blog. I am just a bystander in their last moments of life. What I do want to share is what I have learned. Most of it sounds too simple to be profound. But profound is usually found in the most simple things, isn’t it? Here’s what I got:
There is life in dying. There is a reason they are still living, even if for just another breath.
Family matters. People want their family there with them. They need to feel their hand being held. They need to hear it is okay to die. They need to hear, “I love you.”
Laughter. It is okay to laugh when someone is dying. Sit in the room and tell the funny stories.
Tears. Tears are okay too.
Money. It doesn’t matter. Not once have I heard a dying patient talk about the amount of money they made in a lifetime.
Attention. People want attention. Brush their hair. Straighten their sheets. Sometimes it is the little things that matter the most.
Forgiveness. Give it. Receive it. I have seen patients holding out to die because they are waiting for it. Don’t be stubborn.
Love. I told you simple, didn’t I?
Faith. I saved the best for last. Faith most definitely makes all the difference in death. I have seen the difference of someone with and someone without faith die. There is a difference. There really is.