Even in death, there are gifts

even in death, there are giftsIn 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.


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.


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.


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

Shawn McNamara, MS, RN is the Nursing Program Administrator/Assistant Dean at Community College of Baltimore County, MD.

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3 Responses to Even in death, there are gifts

  1. teresa

    ive been in the med field for around 20 yrs. first as a CNA now as an LPN. i was a CNA at the time of a particular resident that i felt a bond to was dieing she had gone unresponsive but before that happened we shared many conversations. we had many connections one of witch was our religious beliefs. tho we didn’t have the same background or denominational background our connection was strong! so when she did become unresponsive it just seemed natural that i spend some time praying with her. she ended up dieing halfway through that prayer. thats one moments in my medical background that will always stay with me… along with many others…. although nursing is both emotionally and physically draining at times.. its also the most rewarding thing i can possibly imagine doing and cant think of anything better to do with my time!! thanks for the story its a good reminder of why i got into this work in the first place!!

  2. I work with home health and hospice nurses everyday and I am constantly moved by how passionate and committed they are. I am also amazed by their high level of independence.
    This is a beautiful story.

  3. Laurie Marino

    As a Mom with one child, I too have had the same thought – I don’t want my daughter to be alone when I pass. I completely related to your story and pray that, if I go after my husband, my daughter will have someone with her, hopefully her husband and/or children! Or someone like you that can help hold her up. I think that what you did, and do on a regular basis, to help your patients is outstanding! My own mother has been in and out of the hospital since I was just 4 years old, so I’ve watched the love and care provided to her for a long time. I’ve always thought of nurses as angels and your article just proves the point! Thank you for all you do!!! I am also happy to say that I work with you at CCBC!

    Take care and God bless!