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A Pause at the Moment of Death: Your Thoughts

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"The Pause" was initiated by a nurse in Charlottesville, Va. The author describes what it is and asks the reader for their thoughts on its impact.

by jeastridge jeastridge, BSN, RN (Trusted Brand)

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

Do you have a moment of silence after death at your hospital?

A Pause at the Moment of Death: Your Thoughts

The patient came in by ambulance after a motor vehicle accident. His body was intact because the impact had not been severe, but it appeared he had had a medical event that precipitated the crash and the team was getting no response to their all-out efforts to revive this gentleman in his 50's.

The chaos of the initial moments of the code passed, and the ER bay settled into the rhythm of chest compressions, respirations, defibrillation, medications...and starting over, doing it again. After 40 minutes, the ER physician in charge suggested that they call the code and name the time of death.

As machines were turned off, an unnatural quiet settled over the room and one of the team members, a nurse, called for a moment of silence to honor the man who had just passed on. "We are with this man who has just died. Let us honor the significance of his time of passing with our own moment of silence." At that, the group in the room, nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians, residents and pharmacists all paused. Some closed their eyes, as if in prayer, and others just stood quietly, observing in their own way, the significance of this patient's passing.

Having a moment of silence after a death in the hospital or other facility is an idea that started with Jonathan Bartels, RN, a palliative care liaison at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. Whether in the ER, ICU, other hospital setting or extended care facility, the moment of death is a significant event-no matter what faith tradition team members and caregivers originate from.

The pause, taking a minute, sometimes less, to acknowledge the person who has died shows respect: respect to both the deceased and to ourselves as members of the care team. The way a pause shows respect to the person who has died is obvious-offering a moment of silence acknowledges that this body was once someone's loved one. The manner in which a pause shows respect to the team is a little less easily understood. Often, as nurses and other professionals, we do not know much at all about the person we are providing urgent care for- but this makes no difference. The team gives the life-saving efforts their all, trying everything to get the best possible outcome for the patient. By pausing after a death, instead of walking away, the team takes a moment for closure, to acknowledge their own hard work and expertise and the fact that there may be a sense of disappointment that the outcome was not what they hoped.

By taking a moment, pausing briefly, team members can allow themselves the grace of reflection before moving to the next patient. We can acknowledge that the team has just shared an experience and there may be pain involved for some. This small time of self-care might possibly help some professionals stay healthy mentally, spiritually and emotionally as they offer care over the long haul to others. According to Bartels, "The pause slows our racing minds, offering mental space so that we are not drawn into the vortex of failure versus success." (The Pause)

It is important to allow team members to participate or not, according to their own needs and inclinations. For some, it may be exactly the right thing to do, taking that minute to be fully present, to acknowledge this person who has just died; for others, all of that is too difficult during the workday and they prefer to wait and pause in their own way and time. Proponents of the pause advocate for a religiously neutral observation, suggesting instead that each person in the room feel free to respond privately according to their own religious faith. With this in mind, the pause doesn't run the risk of becoming about one particular person's faith tradition but instead about the patient who has died and about personal self-care.

The Pause is moving beyond the University of Charlottesville in Virginia. Marilyn Reiss-Carradero, Critical Care, Rapid Response Team at Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center, states: "CPR, electricity and jabbing in a litany of tubes can be viewed as a barbaric way to die. The "pause" or the "moment" helps to humanize this experience and to provide a moment of dignity to a life lost. It should be taught right alongside BCLS/ACLS." ("A Moment of Silence" Crit Care Nurse published online October 29, 2015) Her response was written as a follow up to Bartel's article and reveals the timeliness and potential importance of a practice as simple as an intentional pause after a death.

It is important to remember that any team member can call for a pause-whoever is present at the bedside during the time of death can ask for everyone to stop just a minute and remember the person that died, celebrating them as someone who was loved and who loved. The Pause is for those that are present, who worked together to try to save the life; for the people in the room, not necessarily for the whole unit.

What about at your facility? Would you consider initiating a pause? How do you think it would be received? Is this a practice that you think might be helpful to you and to others?

Joy Eastridge

Joy has been a nurse for 35 years, practicing in a variety of settings. Currently, she is a Faith Community Nurse. She enjoys her grandchildren, cooking for crowds and taking long walks.

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17 Comment(s)

Pepper The Cat, BSN, RN

Specializes in Gerontology. Has 35 years experience.

Our surgical team takes a moment of silence before performing organ retrevals for organ donation.

tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN, RN

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

What a wonderful idea. I am going to try to get this implemented throughout our health system.

Neats, BSN

Specializes in Case Manager/Administrator. Has 12 years experience.

A Moment of silence to honor the patient is a great ideal. Thank you all who are speaking about death. I will go away with a new skill to teach and to perform.

3ringnursing, BSN

Specializes in ICU; Telephone Triage Nurse. Has 25 years experience.

Often times if you've been doing this a while the significance that this patient is a person - someone's child, sibling, spouse/lover, or friend isn't always thought about. But every patient is that, and a lot more! We at least owe them a nod of one person to another making their way to Timeheart - or wherever else we choose to go once we break free of the mortal coil. About damn time too.

I love this and think it should actually be a part of CPR training. It gives everyone a moment to decompress and also honors "the body" that you were trying to save as a human that deserves respect. I love it.

jeastridge, BSN, RN

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

3ringnursing said:
Often times if you've been doing this a while the significance that this patient is a person - someone's child, sibling, spouse/lover, or friend isn't always thought about. But every patient is that, and a lot more! We at least owe them a nod of one person to another making their way to Timeheart - or wherever else we choose to go once we break free of the mortal coil. About damn time too.

It seems so right that I can't believe we haven't been doing this all along. It's a natural fit.

Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development. Has 10 years experience.

Given the emotional toll our jobs take, this seems a no-brainer, not only to honor the individual but to honor ourselves as well. All of us who have taken part in a code have experienced that out-of-body sense of trying to get back into the swing of the shift after. What a great idea. I will be broaching it here where I work.

Love that it is a purposeful planned pause, honoring their life at the time of passing.

Have Nurse, ADN, RN

Specializes in Med/Surg/Infection Control/Geriatrics. Has 31 years experience.

Extremely appropriate.

Excellent idea. After 15 years, the last 10 of which have been in ICU, I wish this had been thought of sooner. I'm now in an OR at a teaching facility where we do a lot of transplants. Nothing could be more appropriate than prior to operating/harvesting. I'll certainly make mention of it and get a copy of the article. I look forward to instituting this. Brilliant! Thank you for posting!!

Lexi McDonough

Specializes in CCRN, CMSRN, ACLS, Tele, Code TeamLeader. Has 3 years experience.

I don't think this has much value. First of all, the idea of it being mandatory makes it insincere to start with, and people deal with patient deaths differently, while some people might like the pause it might make others feel worse. Personally I would not like it. Working in the ICU we have more deaths that other units, and pausing to be more aware of the patient's passing would make death seem more common and that would not be good!

Nurses should not be forced to do this, they should be allowed to handle it in the way they prefer so long as they fulfill their obligation to give the family emotional support (and their method of dealing is healthy!).