Paying My Respects

Well, I did it. After a great deal of soul searching, reading your thoughts (Thank you all!) and chatting with my preceptor, I decided it would be appropriate to attend my patient’s funeral.

I agreed wholeheartedly with poetrystruth‘s comment:

I’m still a student but I believe that we provide the care as needed and then we let the patient and their families get on with their lives (or death as the case may be). We are being taught to tow the professional line and as of now I agree with that. I believe in the long term it is better for our own emotional well being to maintain that line.

An important part of the nurse-patient relationship is terminating that relationship when the time is right. Being a nurse means empowering your patient so that you’re no longer needed. But in some situations, terminating the relationship may actually not occur until a funeral/memorial service. If you care for a patient consistently over a long period of time, you are also caring for their family (well, technically, you should be doing this even in the short-term, but it’s especially true in situations like peds hem-onc). So even when a patient dies, your final act of caring for the family and terminating the nurse-client/family relationship may be attending the memorial and paying your respects. Not always, but in my situation, I felt connected enough that showing up would be appreciated by the family.

I came to my decision by using a trick the peds palliative care director at the hospital taught me. When you’re wondering about whether you’re crossing a boundary in pediatric nursing, ask yourself “Who is this for?” (Yep, I cited her in my paper!)

I did not go early for the viewing, because that would have been to say goodbye, and that would have been for me. I had already said my goodbyes to the patient the last day of clinical.

But I did go to the funeral to pay my respects to the family and show them that supporting them during a difficult time had been significant to me. A few of the nurses from the floor were there too, as well as one of the doctors and the unit secretary. The family had pretty much lived there for the last few months of the little man’s life. His grandfather acknowledged the importance of health care providers in their lives, and expressed appreciation that we had taken time to show up today. So I know I did the right thing.

During the remarks by the presiding minister, I found myself getting irritated by some questionable theology (I did go to seminary, folks). It started feeling more like an evangelism seminar than a celebration of life. But then I silently chided myself: “Nurse Teeny, who is this for again? Certainly not you.” So I blocked out the drivel, kept repeating in my head that the remarks had been prepared for the family and it didn’t matter what I thought, and distracted myself by looking at adorable pictures of the little guy in the bulletin.

Before I knew it, the service was over and it was time to greet the family and to make my way home.

Was I glad I went? You betcha.

It’s not something I’ll do with every patient, under every circumstance. But it was a significant relationship and a significant learning experience, and I feel that I made the right decision.

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