Saying Goodbye

I don’t know about you, but I never spent much time worrying about losing my family members; I just went happily about my business, trusting that they would always be there. I had one career in the field of administration and finally found my real calling - nursing. Nursing became my passion. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

Saying Goodbye

All the time I was establishing myself in my new-found career, I managed to keep one eye on my personal life and one eye on the declining health of my aging parents.

At one point fifteen years ago, all the planets "aligned themselves" and I made the decision to move to Florida in order to care for my Mom and Dad. I managed to find the right job, the right house, the right everything and things went well. I was there for my Dad's open heart surgery and subsequent frequent health issues.

I was not prepared for my Mother's rapid mental decline as a result of Alzheimer's disease; this was an 87 year old so robust that she was not on any medications whatsoever. Her daily walks became a nightmare for my Dad (who initially was too proud to ask for help). She began to wander aimlessly about the neighborhood the moment he took one of his frequent naps. Meanwhile, Dad spent at least 3 days a month in the local hospital as a result of his failing immune system coupled with ongoing cardiac and peripheral vascular issues.

At the age of 58, I was faced with an almost overwhelming decision: my Mother and Dad could no longer live on their own. I never hesitated to move them in with me (I am fortunate to have my sister and her husband nearby to fill in as sentinel when I went to work). Let me be clear, I agonized over the decision to give up my solitude and bring into my "nest" two elderly people who most certainly required the assistance and supervision of a nurse, but I did spend a great deal of time worrying over my shrinking level of solitude. I decided to obliterate my living room and turn it into my Dad's den - literally picking up the contents of his den and moving it into the my living room. This worked out very well for both Dad and me.

I cannot tell you how painful the surrender of my independence was initially. We started slowly, allowing a pattern to emerge. Up and about quite early on the four days I didn't work; breakfast together included the reading of the newspaper (my Mother always maintained an educated mind was a product of keeping abreast of the world's news). Sadly, I watched as that horrible disease eroded all of the personality of a Mother I loved and respected and left me with a frightened and unsure child who frequently came out of the bedroom my parents shared with such a paranoid facial expression that it became necessary to place alarms on all of the doors in the house and extend safety precautions even to the toilets (septic systems are susceptible to errant materials and inanimate objects such as jewelry and false teeth).

Breakfast completed, we napped until Mother stirred and the door alarm sounded. Every moment she spent awake had to be supervised. At one point, my Dad lost sight of her in one of the large superstores; she managed somehow to leave the store with a large cart filled with groceries (unpaid groceries - loose in the cart) - my Dad found her wandering and she gleefully told him she had taken her purchases to the car and asked someone in the parking lot to keep an eye on the cart (the good Samaritan never noticed the lack of bags; my Dad left the cart and groceries in the parking lot in order to avoid a scene and possible banishment from the store )!!

I grew up with a mother like June Cleaver - pearls and heels at the door at suppertime - waiting for my Dad to arrive from work. The children fed, homework finished, in bed early, behaved and most of all, respected and loved by two supportive parents. Dad was Ward Cleaver: work, work, work. The house was kept maintained; including the lawn; the male domain also covered the automobile and any scheduling of summer vacation getaways took Dad's schedule and desires into consideration.

Holidays were special. Very special! Carved turkeys, lighted Christmas trees; photographs of smiling relatives support lovely memories that as a family, we all treasure. We had something special; something rare. I think we appreciated this fact every single day.

Mother passed away quite suddenly after only 3 months in my home; Dad suffered a massive stroke six weeks after her death and although it was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, I honored his wish to come home with Hospice. He stretched out his left arm to the sky; smiling despite his inability to speak any longer and went to my Mother's beckoning arms only four hours after arriving home. His winsome smile left me alone again; this time resentful of the solitude I had originally guarded so selfishly.

What has this experience brought to my nursing? A deeply felt empathy for my patient's and their families. In the critical care setting it quickly becomes easier to banish an over zealous relative to the waiting room when their questions become challenging. I am not referring to that first 48 - 72 hour period in intensive care; that settling in period when the nurse fights for the patient's life and the patient's needs are established. I am speaking to that long-term period of time when the patient makes one small step forward or backward and the family hovers and clings to every little twitch. Every critical care nurse recognizes it - the mother who rushes out to the desk to report that the patient has opened their eyes and gazed knowingly back at Mother. The sister or brother who tries to corner the nurse and get "the real story".

I have learned how important it is to not only meet the needs of the patient but that it is as important to support their family members in their emotional state. I understand all too well the pain of losing someone dear. I feel their pain, and that makes me a better nurse.

walk6miles works as an RN critical care areas.

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Specializes in Med-Surg, HH, Tele, Geriatrics, Psych.

Beautiful story and very well written! Bugaloo

Specializes in IM/Critical Care/Cardiology.

I would have loved to grow up in this Cleaver household

instead I kept moving away from the abuse

and graduated as a nurse

My mother is currently dying

I wish I could hold her and take away her fears

You just took away mine

Thank you

may 'june and ward' continue dancing with the stars...

thas a great story and very well written.

My tears run down reading your beautiful story.Thank you for sharing it with us!

Specializes in Emergency.

Hi walk6miles,

I relate alot to your article. I enjoyed reading it very much, in spite of the emotions it brought up.

I was a very content veterinary technician for 16 years. I received a promotion, and moved to another state to manage a large animal hospital. After 2 years, I realized I was very unhappy in administration and wanted to be "back in the trenches" so to speak. At the same time as I came to this epiphany, my father got very sick and was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which, sadly had metastasized to other vital organs. I quit my job, and spent the next 7 weeks with my mom and dad, caring for him so she could work and keep their health insurance going.

During this terrible time, I met the hospice nurse who visited twice a week, and performed abdominocentesis on my dad so he could be more comfortable and to see us to see what our needs were. She was one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. This was not just a paycheck to her, it was truly a calling. She not only helped my dad in his last days, but made sure we were taking care of ourselves, and would take the time to sit and listen to our feelings about how hard it was to watch this wonderful man deteriorate in front of us. She really cared about my dad and us too. It was during that time that I decided that I would go back to school and be a nurse. When I walked for my degree, my father was there in spirit.

In my job on a cardiac unit, I see lots of very sick patients, and family that could be labeled as "difficult". Through it all I just try to remember how that one hospice nurse treated my dad and us, and treat the families and patients as she treated us.

I have had so many family members thank me for being there, even when I did nothing more than provide basic comfort care at the end, but it made all the difference to them. I have cried with family members who were demanding and difficult, but ultimately it is my belief that they are appreciative that I show that I care, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Grief is displayed in many ways, not all of them pretty, or polite. The ability to look past the demands, rudeness, and hostility, is what separates a good nurse from a truly great nurse.

I am not always perfect, but I try my best to emulate that nurse I knew for a few short weeks, and I think it shows in my care.

I am right there with you.


Specializes in Medical, ortho/neuro, jail, occupational.

Beautifully written and congratulations to you for being such a special child-your parents must have been as proud of you as you were of them. Difficult times for you but such beautiful memories

Beautifully put.....