Some goodbyes are forever
Sometimes people get the impression that nurses (and others whose work brings them in frequent contact with illness or trauma) get hardened to death, or immune to the sadness it brings. And I just don't think that's true. A nurse can get used to the possibility of death. When prepared, a nurse can assist a patient or family during the dying process, support the grief of the loved ones, and respectfully care for the body of the deceased person.
But not without grief, seen or unseen.
I no longer work in clinical care areas as a clinician; my work as a case manager requires different nursing skills. I'm not the one who starts the IV or inserts the foley. I'm the one standing by with the parents and siblings while the clinicians work. I'm the one who sees them at home, goes with them to the doctor visits, and visits their child at school. I'm invited along on their journey through the complicated and confusing American healthcare system, and I come to know some of them very, very well.
So it's not without grief and a sorrow too potent to explain that I tell you I lost a little client today. She died suddenly, at home: Mom said she just stopped breathing. This was one little feisty baby, let me tell you. When I shut my eyes, I can see her laughing. She has just learned to say, "bah-bah-bah". She liked to blow raspberries. When she smiled, her eyes crinkled shut. When they told me she had died, I just put my head on my desk and cried. Hard.
Who knows why some die early and some live long lives? Not me; I don't know the answers to any big questions like that, and especially not today. I only know I'll miss this baby; this particular, charming, feisty, amusing little complicated human being. I'll carry on; this is not my own child and my grief is nothing compared to a parent's grief. I maintain perspective because I have many more clients and because I also have my own family to love and worry about. Life goes on.
But don't let anyone tell you nurses don't grieve.