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Dealing with a dying family member during nursing school


A family member of mine got diagnosed with cancer two weeks before my second year started. She is beginning to accept that she will not recover and is (heroically, I think) starting to put her affairs in order.

It's very hard watching her go through this. School has just begun and I'm very worried about being able to manage both. On one hand having school as a distraction from what is going on is good. On the other one I'm losing someone I love very much and I want to be there for her.

Have any of you gone through this during school? If so, how did you deal with both? Taking a year off isn't an option for me. If I stop now, I won't go back. Also, if by any chance my family member could make it through the year, I know it would make her so happy to see me graduate before she is gone.

I had a similar situation with my grandmother that raised me. Granted I was doing my prerequisites. However, taking A&P and micro in the same quarter with all of the emotions was no easy task. IMHO spending time with her is more important than school at the moment. Of course you still want to do well in school but when you look back at this time later would you rather say "I wish I studied more." Or "I'm glad I spent the last time she had making great memories." Ultimately the choice is yours. RIP grandma 10/11/11

Esme12, ASN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care, ED, Cath lab, CTPAC,Trauma. Has 41 years experience.

((HUGS)) I am so sorry you are going through this.

We lost my brother in law during my nieces first 3 months into her senior year in her program. Although my BIL had been fighting colon cancer it was mets to the bone when he lost his battle. From the diagnosis to his death was only a few months. It was extremely hard on her and spent hours crying. Her Dad made it very clear to her that the greatest gift she could give was peace of mind. Peace of mind that she was a strong, competent, young adult and would have a good career that will keep her safe for the rest of her beautiful life.

She handled it with poise and grace with plenty of tears. She graduated with honors 6 months after her Dad's death, passed her boards, got a great job in pediatric surgery at a top medical center in the US, and got married almost one year to when she lost her Dad.

I know my BIL was smiling down from heaven and was very proud of the daughter he had raised.

Miss you Jimmy.....:inlove:


Specializes in Ortho-Neuro Rehab, CRRN. Has 7 years experience.

Everyone deals with a situation like yours differently. Follow your heart. During nursing school - I had 2 tradgic deaths of close family members and 1 close family member involved in a serious accident. They all happened with in an 8 month period. It was a crazy time. Very emotional. I made the decision to remain in school and managed to balance it all. Looking back - I don't know how I did it, but I did. Graduated, passed NCLEX and starting my first RN job. I know that they are smiling down from above on me :)

Hang in there!

Edited by AllInRN

Thanks for the words of encouragement. I talked with my adviser today about everything going on. Even though the instructors and staff can not make life as a student nurse any easier for me, they did make provisions like being able to carry my cell phone on me during clinical in case of an emergency and offering a shoulder if I needed one.

It's a very nice feeling knowing when your family is going through a really difficult time your school family is more then willing to be there if you need them. I will finish this year of school. I will become an RN and hopefully my gram can be there to see it. But if not she can look down and be proud of what she has inspired me to become.

KelRN215, BSN, RN

Specializes in Pedi. Has 10 years experience.

My grandfather died (3 days after getting sick) my junior year of college. It was my first semester of clinical. I took a few days off to attend his funeral, dried my eyes, went back to school and made up the test I missed then went on. He lived a good life.

My dad got pneumonia near the end of my second semester of nursing classes (last Nov.) While in the hospital, he developed an aortic dissection, was flighted to a hospital more suited to do the surgical repair. Surprisingly he came through the surgery (I honestly think even the surgeon was surprised). The next two months he was in a nursing home, back to the hospital, back to nursing home, sent to a different hospital...you name it. He never recovered from the original surgery really. It was two-and-a-half months of ups and downs. He died at the end of this past January. There were many times I dragged textbooks and/or notes with me to study while at the hospital (some times it was waiting for a procedure to be done, some times were when he was in a CC unit and only two visitors would be permitted at a time). I don't know, I guess you just plug away at it one day at a time. Some days I felt completely overwhelmed...there were days I felt guilty for not running to the hospital or nursing home as often as I would have liked. But I did get to spend some great time with him too. You do what you have to do. Good luck to you and I wish you peace during this time.

I am so sorry for what you are going through. Everyone handles death differently. This experience might end up molding you into a stronger, more resilient person, and a better nurse.

I lost my father while working on pre-req classes. I was taking Microbiology, which we all know is a rigorous class. During that semester, I had to make numerous trips out of state to visit my father and stay in touch with the Hospice nurses. To this day, leaving my father in the care of those wonderful nurses was the single most difficult thing I have ever done. I felt very conflicted about it. I had a family back home who needed me, and I had to keep going in my hard-won seat in Microbiology, but yet I wanted to stay by my father's side every single minute.

I still cry when I recall how much my father was alone in in his last days, and how much he suffered. But what motivated me to keep going in school was knowing how much my father loved me, and how proud he was of me. He was SO proud! I still recall the last time I saw him, his loving gaze up at me, his weak eyes absorbing every detail of my face.

I finished my Microbiology course with one of the top grades in my class. I felt like a fighter that semester. Every single day I put on my "I am going to DO this!" attitude and just fought it out. I found my grief to be overwhelming at times, and my children would find me dissolved in tears on the couch. But as I absorbed myself in my studies, I felt a stronger focus than I have ever felt before. Indeed, as I look back, I think it was the grief that motivated me and propelled me to excel.

I hope your farewell and grieving process is peaceful and that you have special moments with your loved one that you can cherish always. I wish you much success this semester in your studies. You will do well!


Specializes in L&D, infusion, urology. Has 2 years experience.

Big hugs to you.

I lost my grandfather at the beginning of my second semester, and he was SO sick leading up to it. It was hard not being able to be there for him, and missing his funeral. I kept my instructors in the loop, and I had supportive friends in the program, which helped. It sounds like you have some good support as well.

I think of my grandfather a lot in clinical practice (always have). I think about how I'd want his nurses treating him, and I carry that with me. I think it affects how I care for my patients. I think he'd be proud of that. He was always proud of my military medical experience and of my going to nursing school, and we were very close.

The following year, my husband's grandmother had a major GI bleed and a-fib and landed in the ICU. Shortly thereafter, my mother-in-law broke her shoulder. We ended up caring a lot for them while I was in school.

I lost my father while taking my prereqs to get into nursing school. It is difficult but I just realized I could not stop everything I was doing because of it. We never had a great relationship so there were a lot of emotional issues that went into his death but I just pushed through. Once I found peace it seemed to get eaiser.

Sorry to hear your going through that and good luck.

RunbabyRN that's awful! Thank god they had you looking out for them!! Plus I'm sure you got great learning opportunities!

Emergent, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 28 years experience.

My mother suffered a brain aneurysm rupture during my first semester of nursing school. She lingered on for 4 months and died in my second semester. It was very stressful, and unfortunately, I didn't feel a whole lot of empathy from my instructors. I only took off one day of school during the ordeal, and that was for her funeral. The first clinical day back I started crying when I bent the insulin needle when drawing up insulin for the first time. My instructor questioned whether I was really cut out for nursing.

Needless to say, that particular instructor was not my favorite. Ironically, she was the one in charge of the psyche nursing unit and was teaching us therapeutic communication skills! :eek:

I wish you well. In retrospect, I wish I had reached out more, I was too stiff upper lipped and should have sought support and communicated my emotional needs better.

My mother died of cancer first day of nursing school. I was devastated. Cried in the bathroom during lunch break. I stayed for 2 1/2 month in school and withdrawed in the program. The emotional roller coaster got me. I was soo depressed. I just can't do it anymore.