Updated: Mar 28, 2020
Written March 30, 2018 by CL Smith (2018 QDHPCA Board Member)
Part of the series "Notes from a Night Nurse"
I am always feeding that hunger to become better educated so that I can provide the most current and best possible care to my patients and their families. However, there is nothing that can teach a nurse more than being a family member or patient sitting on the other side of the medical fence.
In my family, “I love you” was never said. It wasn’t that we weren’t loved. We knew we were loved, but it was expressed by doing, not saying. Words were cheap, action was gold. That was our motto. It wasn’t until my own mother was dying that I realized that those three little words were priceless.
Looking back at those long nine months watching her fade away until cancer claimed that once vibrant woman, I know now that it wasn’t just the words. It was the action behind the words. A gentle touch of her slender hand. A word of advice muttered weakly. A smile and a twinkle of a tear as we giggled. It doesn’t take much to feel love.
We are only filled with a limited number of heart beats and we are all afraid of the last thump. I’m no exception. Some of us will lean into the dying process, others lean away. That is human nature. So If we are all heading to the same inevitable end, why not share a little more of our compassionate side? It might make the world a little more bearable.
As a nurse, I have said “I love you” to more patients than I can count and I meant it every time those simple little words came from my heart. I have hugged family members, friends, and patients as they cried, my tears mixing with theirs. I have held their hand they slipped away, I have sat through the night, easing pain with not just medications, but with listening ears.
Don’t know what to say to someone dying? I suffer from that occasionally near fatal disease called Foot-in-Mouth, but I always remember my mother’s advice, “I’m dying, not dead, so stop treating my like it I’m already gone.”
Show up with a laugh and a smile and some tall tales. Wine and Kleenex helps.
When someone asks that inevitable question,” How can I help?”, let them. Even if it’s as simple as letting them pick up the groceries for you or bringing you a cup of coffee. After my mother died, I was asked that. I had a hard time swallowing my pride to ask them to put my laundry on the clothes line while I finished working on probate papers. It was so simple and yet it was a relief. Remember, helping you helps them too.
And when someone who is grieving shows up on your door step and needs to lean on you, let them. We are a culture of looking busy for the sake of looking busy. Stop and be with them. Have a tea and enjoy the time spent in each other’s company.
Next time you see someone suffering, ask them if it’s okay to hug them and take a moment to be a friend in that moment. Time is more valuable than checking your social media news feed.Put away the phone and listen with both ears. Be sparing with the advice.
And above all else, tell them that they are loved.