Another question....May sound silly but..

Students General Students


I've often wondered as I've never faced it, not even with relatives.

How does a nursing student know how she/he is going to handle it when a patient dies around them? I've had losses in my family....mother, father, friends, etc....but I've never been present during death. How will I react? How do most nurses react when it happens in front of them for the first time? What is strictly forbidden for the nurse to do? If she cries, if she's upset in any way, what does this say about her? I'm not afraid of death but, then again, have never seen it actually happen though I understand it happens in different ways. It's been described to me and in some cases it's sounded horrible.

Like I said, silly question, but wouldn't that be a terrible way to find out I'm a failure in nursing.


283 Posts

I don't think your question is silly at all....

I react in a variety of ways, depending on the individual patient and their family. And while I've never had a full blown crying jag in front of family, I have become teary eyed... there are no rules when you're in this situation. Because you are learning about Professionalism, you'll do the right thing when that time comes, never fear.

I focus on keeping the patient/family informed, and the patient clean and comfortable, if possible.

Good luck with your studies! :)


18 Posts


I totally understand how you feel. I have no clue how I am going to react either. I am somewhat of a "mushy" person, so I am afarid that I'll cry and carry on. My school offers a class about "Death and Death processes" for heatlh care prof. but I don't know how well it will prepare me.



249 Posts

Specializes in Telemetry, Stepdown.

When I was doing my CNA training, I saw one of my DNR patients take their last breath. I handled the situation fine, but it was very sad because she had no family.

i don't think there is a way to predict how one will react. i've reacted differently depending on the situation. if it's a code through the doors that is beyond help, i don't get too emotional at all. not that i don't feel for that person or the family that will show up, i just don't have time to dwell on the event.

if it's a person that's been in the ER for a while and i've talked to them and the family, i tend to get teary.

children still tug on the heartstrings and i'll let the tears flow.

i think it has more to do with the professionalism that the healthcare member displays. i don't think that breaking down and becoming a blubbering soul is helpful to anyone.

Specializes in Med/Surg, Ortho.

I agree,, your reaction will depend on a number of things. Even down to how your day is going, or "hormonal" level that week i think. But dont be afraid of embarressing yourself,, because even nurses are human with real human emotions. It can be just as hard to watch a family begin the grieving process as it is to be the one grieving and I think sometimes it brings our own experiences with grief right back to the surface. Especially for the new nurse.


713 Posts

This is something my husband and I have discussed several times. I tend to get emotional about these things, but my opinion is there is nothing wrong with it. It is human nature to cry and truthfully, I believe that it shows just how much caring you have. The families will appreciate knowing that their loved one was not "just another number".

I'm glad this was brought up, and I look forward to reading the responses!:)

jschut, BSN, RN

2,743 Posts

When I was in nursing school, the subject came up about crying in front of a family.

The major concensus was crying in front a family shows you have feelings and are a good, caring nurse.

Nothing is wrong with becoming teary eyed at the passing of a patient you have grown close to. Nothing at all.


303 Posts

You know, I recall a few years back when a local boy was killed in an explosion in his own back yard. Apparently something left underground....from what, I don't know. He was only 12 years old and my sister-in-law who is a LPN and a Christian went to stand with his parents at his bedside in the ER at our town's community hospital. I know it had to have upset her greatly but she seemed to have great control over her emotions and I remembering wondering if, in her training, she had somehow been de-sensitized in handling death. I wasn't there but I heard from others how strong she was and how much she kept the newly bereft parents from collapsing. She knew this boy too. His family was a member of a neighboring congregation and our churches often got together. I suppose witnessing the death of a child is my biggest fear or worry. When the patient is elderly or has been sick, it's possible I could see it as a release or a reward of sorts for those ready for Heaven. Not sure if I could look at it in the same light if it was the very young. Yet, I guess God gives us the strength when the time comes and I imagine that every seasoned nurse has had her/his heart broken more than once when experiencing this.

Anyone ever read Echo Heron's book "Intensive Care"? Do you remember her description of the little girl who had drowned? I felt torn to pieces reading that and realizing that this is real, this happens, this is what nurses live with. I just pray I have the strength when I'm that nurse.


550 Posts

Believe me this is not a silly question, it is something I worry about as well. I have been very very fortunate not to have had anyone close to me die and I worry a lot about how I will handle it if a patient I get close to dies. I am sure of one thing though, compassion, caring, and tears are not something I can see as a bad thing in that instance so I am pretty sure I will be ok.


226 Posts

I believe I feel the same as some of you here. I believe I will do fine, unless its a child. My DH works at the hospital, he usually has difficulties when a child is involved. You replace them with thoughts of your own child, and get even more emotional.

I dont feel tears are bad, I think a complete break down would NOT help the matter, or be benifitial to anyone, but there is always a closet or bathroom you could go break down in if needed.

We want to be NURSES, which are HUMAN. To grieve and not show any emotion would be precieved as cold and heartless. Have you ever witnesses a DR who shows no emotion after breaking bad news, shows no feelings? How would the family feel if they showed just a bit of empathy or feeling? In a word, UNDERSTOOD.

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