This blog is written from purely my own personal experience and others may have a very different experience and approach to me. But that’s what makes this perfect, end of life is very different to each individual and from a patient’s perspective, everyone has their own religion, beliefs and values. Each person will have their own way of dealing with death and it is our responsibility as nurses and student nurses to honour and respect those wishes as much as we possibly can.
I have two different experiences of end of life. Firstly, from a personal family perspective, and secondly from a professional perspective.
When I was seven years old, I witnessed my grandad die at home. He had cancer and wanted to be nursed at home rather than go into any hospital. I remember not understanding what was happening around me, I didn’t understand the concept of what death meant. I remember everyone being sad and crying, but I couldn’t! I wanted to comfort those around me instead. Maybe this was my first sign that I was born to nurse, because at a young age I was trying to comfort and care for those around me. I have had a few family deaths since this first time, and I have dealt with each of them very differently. Each created their own emotions and each time I have had my own way of handling the grief that came with it.
The next experience I had of end of life care, was when I was working in a care home – my very first job in health-care. I had been working there for around 4 months, and I had been looking after the most wonderful resident. I had nursed her for the past 4 months, during her best and worst moments in her life. I had formed a strong bond and connection with this lady, even though she rarely spoke words. Unfortunately, this lady took a turn for the worse and we nursed her in bed; she was at the end of her life.
I had arrived at work after a couple of days off and during handover I was told my lady had passed away the night before, they didn’t mention the time of death to us. I felt a mixture of sadness but relief that she was not in pain anymore – that she was at peace now. Somebody asked me to go up to this lady’s room to clean and tidy up. As I entered her room, I had the shock of my life! She was still in bed! Nobody had warned me that they had not been to take the body yet, or the fact she had not long died. I ran straight out of that room and down to the managers’ office to question what was going on and why no one had told me this during handover. Not only that, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t seeing things!
One of the other carers talked to me and asked if I would like to participate in the last offices. I had never done this before, but I was willing to learn and keen to know what happens during these moments. I can’t lie and say it was a 100% pleasant experience, I found it all very strange. My lady was there, but she wasn’t… I continued to talk to her like I did every time I assisted her when she was alive, but this time she wouldn’t reply. I helped wash the body and then put a fresh nightgown on her. She looked peaceful and still beautiful. I felt calm and not afraid of death after this.
Ever since this moment, I have always offered to do the last offices of patients. I find this an honour, as this is the very last piece of care that person will ever receive, and it’s from me. My advice to anyone out there is, if this is your first time, take it in your stride, make sure you respect the patient and the families wishes. If you struggle, make sure you talk to someone about this. Don’t suffer in silence if you find this upsetting – we are human, not robots.
By Claire Carmichael (@C_Carmichael83) – Third year adult nursing student (BCU)