Personal Death as a Nurse

Nurses General Nursing


I have been a registered nurse for two 1/2 years. Prior to that, I was a nursing assistant in the long term care field, which is where I am a RN, since 2005. Both as an aide and a nurse I have had my share of dealing with death on the job with no problems but what happens when the death you need to deal with is personal?

On January 26, 2013, my husband and I received a phone call from my mother in law and brother in law regarding my nine year old nephew. That week, he had missed school and was in the ER twice, once with a diagnosis of the flu, the second with pneumonia. He was taken back to the ER this day by the request of the ER doctors from earlier in the week to have his blood work rechecked. The blood work was horrible and the ER doctors had decided he needed to be transferred to a bigger hospital in the Valley (Lehigh Valley Health Network) and be admitted. He was admitted into the ICU and was later intubated and restrained due to him not being compliant with the non rebreather (he hated anything on his face). I received this phone call before laying down to sleep prior to my scheduled night shift.

I was a mess that night at work, worried about this sweet innocent little boy being in the hospital, especially since the week prior, he was out hunting with us. My husband's cousin works with me on the dayshift and was close to the little boy. Her and I had decided I would get some sleep and head down to see him after she got off of work on January 27th.

I went home, got changed, and was in the process of heading to church since I really needed God at the moment when we received another phone call. He was not doing good and they wanted everyone at the hospital right away. I was heartbroken. I called my mother, who loved this boy, and she came down to watch my 2 children. My other brother in law came home and my husband, my brother in law, and myself headed to the hospital, 45 minutes away.

The next 3 hours were hard as various family members came in and out of the PICU to see my nephew. I had the doctor explain to me what was happening, since I have a background in medicine. What was happening was all his organs were slowly failing and he was bleeding into his chest. We were asked to leave the unit while they placed to chest tubes in him. While this procedure was going on, he coded and never came back. On January 27th, 2013, at 10:36 am, my nine-year-old nephew had passed away and my world feel apart. Watching everything happen to him and being a nurse, I felt helpless and scared.

The next week was torture for us all as we said good boy to the most sweet boy in the world. My daughter was heart broken, that was her buddy, her friend. They did everything together in the summer. Looking at his picture still hurts knowing he is not here.

I then had to sit down and think. As a nurse, I felt the medical profession had failed this little boy. I didn't want to be a nurse anymore. Before this, I had wanted to be a pediatric nurse but after everything that happened, I knew that wasn't a possibility and maybe even being a nurse wasn't possible.

A week after he passed, I did go back to work but I felt alone and frightened. I really wanted to leave nursing all together. A friend of mine, who was an LPN, told me about a book called On Call that helped her mom, who is a nurse, get over a hard death when she first started off as a nurse.

Being a nurse I think made this death harder for me. I deal with death routinely in the nursing home but this death was hard. I guess no matter what training you have, it never gets easier when it is a loved one, does it?

allnurses Guide


7,073 Posts

Specializes in Peds/outpatient FP,derm,allergy/private duty.

No, it never gets easier. I'm honestly at a loss as to what to say other than my heart goes out to you during this tragic event in your family's journey together.

You have your precious faith to help. Realize that when our hearts and souls are put through the wringer like this we are a grieving person, our occupation is secondary.

Let us know what you need...even if it's just to vent..we have members who specialize in helping people get through this..

((Hugs to you)).

I'll keep your family, especially your daughter in my prayers.


642 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg/ICU/Stepdown.

I am so, so sorry for your loss. I cannot possibly imagine the grief you are feeling, but I appreciate your sharing your story. Positive thoughts are sent to you and your loved ones.

While a new nurse, I struggle with this issue every day. When I first entered the profession, I felt an overwhelming sense of duty to assist to heal and rehabilitate every patient I took care of. The longer I have gone into my journey, and the more patient deaths I encounter, the more I am constantly reminded of the limitations of modern medicine.

I think as nurses it is often our instinct and our first reaction to help heal, and maybe when we cannot, we feel as if we have failed our patients or even our loved ones. It has helped me to realize that assisting someone to pass as peacefully and with as much dignity as possible is often as beautiful as healing or giving the gift of life. These deaths don't get any easier, but remembering that life is so precious can assist us to utilize our time on earth to the best of our abilities.


375 Posts

Specializes in Neuro ICU/Trauma/Emergency.


Thanks for sharing your story. At some point we will all have to deal with death and illnesses. Being a nurse does not make you immune to the grieving process, that's a lesson I try to teach all the new grads. Being a nurse does not mean you can not enjoy your life. Being a nurse does not mean you are exempt from illnesses of your own. ( I am sure these are things you already know)

Sometimes you have to take time for yourself. It's always difficult to watch the demise of those so young. But, you'll make it through this.

I wish you nothing but the best. -RNGRIFFIN

Specializes in Pediatrics, Emergency, Trauma.

Sorry for your loss.

Death plays with ones mortality, especially when it hits close to home.

Surviving a near death experience did give me a different take on death; my complexities on death have made me be able to cope with death as a fact if life, and to make sure that death is as peaceful as possible for the patient; it has helped me as pediatric nurse who have dealt with children dying from cancer or slowly declining because of underlying pathology, sudden illness, or trauma.

It is normal to feel that healthcare and our technology will help save as much people as they can, especially children; I have witnessed medically fragile children evolve into lights of the world; I am humbled by the children who are faced with death and need comfort care as equal as the ones who thrive.

Be gentle to yourself. Go through those stages of grieving. Please make sure you seek out professional help if necessary.

Only you will make the decision as to whether you want to join me and others who are in Pediatric Nursing that see many humbling challenges, but do it every shift.

Sending positive vibes to your family in light of your tragedy. (((HUGS)))

"A week after he passed, I did go back to work but I felt alone and frightened." I am so sorry for your loss.

The death of a loved one is especially hard on a professional. We feel there was SOMETHING we could have done.. some intervention that we could have made .. as we have done many times before.

The cold hard truth is... you were powerless in that struggle.

I have tried three times now... death always won. It will take some time to recover emotionally.

Please try... and get some counseling, I wish I would have.


3 Posts

I am at a loss for words. My deepest amd most heartfelt condolences to you and ypur family.

Specializes in SICU, trauma, neuro.

Hugs...I'm so very sorry for your loss.

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