Caring should be a prerequisite for being a nurse as far as I'm concerned. If death doesn't touch you on SOME level, you have no buisness being a nurse. Having said that, that doesn't mean you have to cry a river everytime someone passes. One of the most compassionate caring things we can do as a nurse is to make sure someone is comfortable and cared for during the dying process. I used to work in a nursing home so I have seen a fair amount of death. This is going to sound rather morbid, but when a patient passes on with a peaceful look on their faces, that there makes me feel as if I've done my job making sure that paitient has had a chance to die with death and dignity on their OWN terms.
Two deaths stick out in my mind, and will forever. Because of these two deaths, I am still giving serious thought to becoming a hospice nurse.
The first time I had to call a family in because a loved one was extremely ill was the hardest. This lady had a systolic pressure of 48, and I couldn't get a diastolic pressure period. I had to stand there in a darkened room and explain to three generations of men (ranging in age from 12 to 70) what death looked like, what it was going to smell like in the room(this lady had a GI bleed in response to extreme dehydration, and that is a distinctive smell all of its own) , and what to expect from the staff as far as response to a death. I felt like crap having to tell them this, but they all looked at me and hugged me and thanked me for my compasion and taking the time to talk with them. I stepped out into the hall and bawled. This lady didn't pass that night, but a few days later on my day off. Still, I made sure she was she was clean, was in as little pain as I could manage (god bless morphine), and her family had unfettered access to her for a chance to say goodbye.
The other death was a nursing home "warehouse" patient. Her family basically coulndn't take taking care of a developementally disabled elderly lady, so they shoved her in a nursing home. They visited about twice a year (even though they were local). Well, this lady had more and more trouble eating and drinking, and eventually quit altogether. Her family consented to putting her in hospice care, for which I am eternally grateful. When I was alerted to the fact that this lady had something very wrong with her (again, a MASSIVE lower GI bleed that you could smell from two doors down) I assesed her, called the doc who agreed with me that she probably only had hours left, called her family (they just wanted to make sure the proper person was notified so she could pay for the casket), and called hospice. Within an hour I had morphine and ativan delivered. This little lady was washed frequently by the CNA staff, she was calm, felt no pain, and had volunteer off duty CNAs sitting with her until she passed early in the morning. Many CNAs who knew she did not have a supportive family stopped by to hold her hand and say a short prayer for her. Even my muslim CNA.
I feel privileged that I could be part of these two ladies passing. I helped them get through the dying process with dignity and relative comfort. They also passed on knowing they were cared for.
You can't have life without death, and you can't have death without life. It's ok, and even good and nececarry to grieve death, but just remember it is a natural and inevitable part of life. As nurses we will never be able to avoid death, but we sure can make it a little more comfortable for all those involved (One little clarifying statement here: Within the scope of our practice and within doctor's orders of course!) Compassion is a good thing for a nurse.