Even in death, there are gifts
In nursing, we have the privilege to witness many special events in the lives of our patients. This is especially true in hospice care, when the nurse has the opportunity to work with patients and families as they struggle with many issues at the end of life.
I DON’T WANT MY DAUGHTER TO BE ALONE
Maggie Jones was a 78-year-old patient with metastatic breast cancer who was admitted to our home hospice program. It was clear to see that a major focus of Maggie’s life was her only daughter. Maggie made it clear early on that she did not want her daughter to be alone with her when she died. As time progressed and my relationship with Maggie grew, she wanted me to reassure her that I would be present – with her daughter – when she died. But as a home hospice nurse rotating on-call responsibilities, I knew I might not be present at the time of her actual death. I couldn’t promise her that I’d be there.
DEATH WAS QUICKLY APPROACHING
After three months of care, Maggie had a change in her condition. She was no longer responsive to verbal stimuli and death was quickly approaching. Her daughter called the on-call nurse who quickly made a home visit. Yet Maggie was holding on and would not let go. After six hours, the on-call nurse called me to make me aware of the situation. I quickly made a home visit and sat by Maggie’s bed. I held her hand and told her that I was there. Maggie took her last breath with me – and her daughter – by her side.
WHAT I LEARNED
I learned a great lesson from Maggie about death and motherhood. Even in death, she gave her daughter a gift. Maggie held on to ensure that she had the support system she wanted there for her daughter. As a nurse, I often think of how fortunate I am to be witness to the many life-changing events in the lives of my patients. There are few professions that offer such benefits.
Shawn McNamara, MS, RN is the Nursing Program Administrator/Assistant Dean at Community College of Baltimore County, MD.
By Shawn McNamara