First Death Experience


Last night at work I had my first experience with death.

I'm not freaked out about it, just, well, affected by it and it's heavy on my mind.

I've never even been around anyone dying in my personal life..the closest I've ever been to a dead person was twice at funerals. lucky I am, at 34.

Went to work (CNA at a nsg home) at 1400..checked on this lovely lady on my first rounds..she said she was cold so I got her a blanket. She's normally very independent..talkative, oriented and altogether 'with it'. She'd gotten up for lunch that day, then laid down for a nap. The aide who had vitals that day took hers (routine) about an hour later and her bp was 70/28. She told the nurse, and word spread like wildfire through the building..the lady was a favorite of many. By 1530 she was mottling and her respirations were only 8 per minute. At about 1600, another aide poked her head out the door and waved me in as I walked down the hall..wasn't sure if she could find a pulse. I checked her with my stethoscope, told my co-worker we'd better get the nurse. It's a very odd sensation, putting your stethoscope where you know the heartbeat should be, and hearing nothing. The thing is though, you know by looking at them that you won't find anything, before you even check.

I got a little teary eyed, but thank goodness didn't disolve into a blubbering mess, which has been one of my greatest fears since starting nsg school. I'm one of those people that cry over sappy commercials on TV.

And then, I went on and got my run up for dinner. The funeral home came for her within about an hour.

I am overwhelmed by the permanence of it..the fact that it's done and there's no getting it back. I'm not overcome..a little sad for her family, but not totally freaked out or anything. Not even close to what I thought I might be. I've never experienced death firsthand like that, and just wanted to share. I did feel kind of weird about just letting it happen, and it added one more click to the wheel that is turning that will determine where I want to work in nsg. I think I want to be someplace where I can at least try to defy that permanent, irrevocable final step..or at least be part of the team that is trying to save that person. I totally understand and agree with DNRs..this was no exception, but it was till kinda I should have been doing something. I guess that goes back to the time I heimliched a 10 year old when I was a waitress. That's an amazing high.

Anyway, I'm disolving into a ramble, so I'll stop now. There's no other place in the world that I could have related this with knowledge that I'll be understood..thanks from a truly green student.



60 Posts

ur post really made me cry... i wish that u could have been at her bed-side (or another person) to help her in her taking her place to the other side. i guess for me, i am in tears b/c no one was there to hold her hand.... you would want that???? right????

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141 Posts

ur post really made me cry... i wish that u could have been at her bed-side (or another person) to help her in her taking her place to the other side. i guess for me, i am in tears b/c no one was there to hold her hand.... you would want that???? right????

:crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2:

Actually, she did have someone with her the whole time. As I said, she was a much loved resident, so every aide in the building made it a point of coming and spending a few minutes with her. At several points over the afternoon, there were 4-5 of us in there. My co-worker happened to be the one there when she took her last breath, and just grabbed me because I was close by to verify it.

Gosh, I hope I didn't come off like we were cold about it. The fact of the matter was, we still had 100 or so still living people to take care of too, in the midst of it. None of us came away without being teary eyed, and the nurse who came in at our call said "God bless you *****" with his hand on her head.

I guess that's the whole 'fact of life' part of it. It's the first of many I am sure to see, and I wonder how I'll react when it's a young person that my team has tried our best to save.


i too have dealt with death just recently, for the second time this year. i work in an afh, so death is definitely something that is enevitable at my job. while not an easy thing to go thru, it can be quite a positive experience.

death, like life, has meaning. and to each of us it's different. i take a lot of pride in what i do daily for the ppl that i take care of. we, as nurses, especially in settings such as nursing homes and afh's, r these ppl's sole providers, helping them do everything, from getting out of bed in the morning to helping them to the bathroom, to eating. so it's to no surprise that it would affect us in more ways than the average person when they pass.

i have been lucky, so far, *knocks on wood*, that both of the ppl we've lost this year have passed after my shift ended and i had went home for the day. while most ppl pass with their loved ones by their sides, or their caregivers, sometimes they mean for themselves to go when no one's around, in fear of making ppl sad. maybe that's the case with this lady.

there's not a day that goes by when i don't give my folks hugs and tell them that i love them at the end of my shift. that's something i have always done and will continue to do.

keep in mind, that most of these ppl come to these places to die. it's our jobs to make their lives as simple as possible while they do. each of us has our own opinions as to dnr orders, that's never going to change. end-of-life nursing is not something that everyone can handle. let this death, and each one after this (if you should continue working in this particular field of nursing) teach u something. always remember them. they have changed u. feel blessed. *smiles


761 Posts

Specializes in pedi, pedi psych,dd, school ,home health.

(((((Dena)))) may God bless you with insight during this difficult time. I have been a nurse for almost 25 yrs, and it never gets easier for me, just different. Many times we "know" this is best for the patient, but we have to deal with the emotional part as well. I carry a special place in my heart for those i have helped pass to a better place, and think about some very special ones often. YOu sound very committed and compassionate..god bless in your career. Mary

Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

153 Articles; 21,229 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 31 years experience.

Thanks for your caring, compassionate attitude. You will be a great nurse!


1,060 Posts

Specializes in Telemetry, ICU, Resource Pool, Dialysis. Has 11 years experience.

(((((((Deana)))))) That first one will always stick with you. You will understand as you progress in your career, that this was a "good" death. Not everybody gets to die quietly and with dignity, in the company of people who care about them.

My first experience was when I worked as a CNA in a nursing home. A very quiet, frail alzeheimer's patient. Her son would visit a couple times a week and play piano for her. She used to play, but was unable in the end because of arthritis. I got to work one day and she was unresponsive in bed. Everybody was just waiting for her to die. Her son wasn't there - I don't know why - some families don't want to be there in the end. Anyway, I felt so weird just taking turns going down to her room every 30 minutes to see it she had gone yet. I finally asked if I could just sit with her. I felt kind of strange, but I felt like she needed someone there. I couldn't stand the thought of her dying all alone. So I sat there for about an hour, holding her hand and talking to her. She just slipped away. Her breathing had become a little less labored as I sat there, as if she felt someone at her side. I felt sad that she was gone, but at the same time I felt so glad to have been there with her.

Now, dealing with dying patients is one of my favorite assignments. I feel honored to have the opportunity to be there. I know it sounds weird. I just see an opportunity to make an inevitable situation just a little bit more comfortable for everybody. We treat the beginning of life with such reverence and awe, why should the end be ugly and uncomfortable if we can make it just a little better?

Specializes in NICU. Has 18 years experience.


Your post brought tears to my eyes, I could relate so much to a lot of what you were saying. I experienced my "first death" this past semester. Like you, I had never really been around anyone dying. So when I had my clinicals in the ER last semester and EMS brought in a 39-year old woman in full arrest, we did CPR until the doc called it ..... what a shock, I was just totally shocked. It was over, her life was over, the doctor had to tell her 18 year old daughter. I got a little teary eyed, but was surprised that I didn't just start bawling right there ..... just like you said, that was one of my fears too. Afterwards is when it hit me, then I cried and cried.

Thank you for posting this :icon_hug:

Tweety, BSN, RN

32,946 Posts

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 31 years experience.

Thanks for sharing your experience. You sound like a great nurse.

End-Of-Life care is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job, it's a privilege and an honor to take care of the dying.

Thank you, Deana for caring for this lady.


prmenrs, RN

4,565 Posts

Specializes in NICU, Infection Control. Has 42 years experience.

My first death as a student was, prophetically, a premie. I had helped the pediatrician code the baby, but he died. At that hospital, maintenance took the bodies away. So the staff nurse helped me tag and wrap the baby up--in brown paper! The man came to get it, tucked it under his arm, and went on downstairs.

I have always felt a little stunned after my pt dies--I have to mentally 'get a grip' so I can complete my work for the shift, but in the back of my mind, I'm still thinking of that pt. Stays w/me after I get home, too. Helps if I can pray, say a rosary in the car on the way home or something. Sad feeling, though.

Hang in there, Dena, you did a great job!


141 Posts

Thank you all so much for your responses..your kind words and shared experiences are really helping me wrap my head around this.

I can really relate to having it in the back of your head through the rest of the shift, but having to suck it up, so to speak, until later. "Stunned" is pretty much a perfect description. I felt like "Hey! Someone has just DIED! Shouldn't we all be shutting the place down for the night? Shouldn't there be something more we are doing?" But the reality is, this is different than a family member going, in that we have all those other living people who need us. So long as we did our best to ease this one that has moved on, there is nothing more we can do.

It's so true, what was said about the fanfare of birth compared to death. It IS a privelege to help people go peacefully, and it was a good death.

And I do know I'll never forget this lady. I think I was just looking for validation that what I'm feeling this weekend is normal.

Thanks again.


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