Emotions of Facing Death
I remember being a new nurse just out of school. I took a job at a state mental hospital in a maximum security unit and worked there for two and a half years. As I look back on that experience, I have one huge take-away. I found that the emotional and mental effort of caring for patients was much more tasking to me than when I worked in a physically demanding unit caring for orthopedic patients. On Ortho, the physical work was intense as we lifted, turned, and generally muscled patients around to provide the care needed by them. Though I was tired at the end of my shifts on this orthopedic unit, I found that in a seemingly easier job at the state hospital, I came home even more drained. This was true because mentally and emotionally were added to the physically drained status, which was a new experience for me that came clearer in hindsight. This emotional work is the work we see caregivers do as they care for the dying. This heavy emotional lifting is the weight of working out their own complex feelings and thoughts about death, both of the patients they are caring for, and often their own. In the words of the comic strip character Pogo….”we have seen the enemy and he is us.”
We are usually so busy living that we rarely give death a second thought. If we do pause to consider it, it is usually as a concept that is distant and remote. We are pretty sure it will happen to us someday, but let’s not dwell on it, right? So we don’t….dwell on it. Most of us don’t even have an understanding of what the “it” is we are so carefully avoiding dwelling on. This is no longer true of the caregivers for the hospice patient. They have invited the process of death into their home, and for better or worse they have crossed the tipping point of the decision to take this journey and will come to know death very well indeed. We invite you to read our next blog that will cover two of the later tipping points in the dying process that families and caregivers often find most challenging and learn how hospice can support these concerns.