It’s my job, as a hospice nurse, to be the navigator on a journey that most all hate to travel. Just as any exploratory voyage, and it is exploratory because each person’s journey is unique, there are moments of calm… moments of silence… moments of laughter… moments of regret… moments of sadness. In my mind’s eye, we are all, patient, family and hospice staff, climbing aboard a boat and charting off into uncharted waters. But, what happens after that boat sails peacefully off into the sunset? What happens to that impenetrable bond that is formed through those life changing moments?
“Helen, your role is to give that patient the passing they want and make sure that the families are well taken care of.” Hmm.. ok. But, I am I just supposed to sever those bonds formed just after the patient dies? Think about veterans who have faced death in the heat of battle. Those brave souls have their lives woven together for all eternity. They commiserate for years later because it’s the way of unburdening the heaviness of their memories. Could one just walk off forever after the battle was won and the land was calm? Or is it that bond.. that tie that binds a hospice nurse and a patient’s family that prevents us from truly ever vanishing?
This is my blog and I can be brutally and painfully honest. I just cannot be that person that has spent months riding the roller coaster of emotions alongside you and then just walks away. The fact is I feel every single emotion you do. Every tear you shed, I often shed, as well. When I see you frustrated and exasperated, know I am mirroring those emotions. Not only because I am a hospice nurse, but, because I understand, so implicitly, that rainbow of emotions. I have already buried both of my own parents. My father was on hospice. The other side of the bed is not unfamiliar to me. Those deep soul searing emotions have been such a part of my being, that when you feel them, the reflection is cast on mine, as well. How then am I just to walk away? The truth is, I am incapable on so many levels of doing that.
I once read that it is my job to educate and empower the families so that after their loved one passes, they are independent of me. But, maybe it’s me that cannot be independent of them? Many families have said that a second loss often occurs after their loved one passes. That is the loss of all the faces that have been present through this journey. A husband sobbed to me once after the loss of his wife that he had prepared himself for the loss of her, it was the loss of me, the calls the visits, that he hadn’t prepared himself for. Try as I might, I can never distance myself enough to make the loss of those faces bearable.
If you family members ever wonder… yes, I think of you… yes, I pray for you… yes, I sometimes cry… yes, sometimes I ride the emotional roller coaster that you do after your loved one dies. I might be a hospice nurse, but, at the end of the day I am a mere woman. I don’t have the superpower of being apathetic. Sometimes, I do wish I could, but, it’s just not in the cards. I think about it all. Even after your loved one passes, I think of you.
So, don’t expect me to totally vanish. There might be a card. There might be a call. Know that this feeds my soul as much as it does yours. After all, my sweet families, we have stared down the face of death together and that’s a bond that binds us inexplicably forever.