How Nurses Cope with the Death of a Patient: 7 Ways to Do it
We all die in the end. It sounds morbid, but this is the reality and commonality for us all. For nurses, dealing with a patient’s death can be traumatic in some ways. How do nurses cope with the death of a patient anyway?
How to Cope with the Death of a Patient
If you are a new nurse and have just experienced the death of a patient, it can be overwhelming. It is not always easy to deal with it. And just because you are a nurse, that does not mean you are immune to grieving. Truth is, it is part of the challenges nurses face. We do grieve for our patients, and we do these seven steps to help us cope with the loss.
1. Understand that Death is Inevitable.
When you understand that life is a cycle, it is easier to cope with all the stress. We all are bound to die at some point, and while death can’t be avoided, you should accept that this is part of life. Of course, accepting it does not mean you are someone who doesn’t feel anything. You do, but you understand better, and as a nurse, it is part of your understanding that all life comes to an end.
2. It is part of your job.
As a nurse, dealing with loss is a daily part of your life. Showing empathy toward your patients is what makes you an excellent nurse, but it can also be painful when you lose a patient. You also mourn the loss whenever you lose a patient, and sometimes, longer than you thought you could. Death becomes personal for nurses with empathy, but they must also remember that it is part of their chosen profession. And as a nurse yourself, you must realize that your profession deals with caring for people, and grieving for your patients means you have done your job.
3. Talking about it helps.
Being in the healthcare field means you are often surrounded by the sick and dying. Fortunately, you have coworkers and colleagues who have dealt with the same situation before. Whatever you are feeling, they have experienced it too. Processing your emotions out loud to another empathetic nurse can help you with that. Colleagues who have dealt with patient death can often relate to how you feel and may even advise you on what to do.
4. It’s OK to feel how you feel.
Sometimes, as healthcare providers, we often rationalize how we feel about the death of a patient. While this can sometimes help, this is not realistic. Of course, you have to remain as professional as you can be after losing a patient, but you can also feel sad about it. Understand that death is a tricky thing, but you are also entitled to feel how you feel. You can grieve for your patients in your way as long as it doesn’t affect your work.
5. Take care of yourself.
As nurses, we often form a close bond with our patients. And when we lose that patient, we often find ourselves grieving for them like family. How nurses cope with the death of a patient can sometimes be more personal than anything. However, in the aftermath of this, you need to take care of yourself. Remember, your job as a nurse means taking care of patients. That said, you must also take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly.
6. Remember, you are making a big difference.
Part of a nurse’s job is to not only care for patients but their families as well. The loss of a patient can affect family members the most, and as a nurse, you have the opportunity to be there for them too. How you treat family members who suffer and talk to them can make a huge difference in their lives. It can also help them cope with the loss. So, in your little way, you helped them.
7. Find an outlet to destress.
Dealing with patient loss is no doubt stressful. How nurses cope with the death of a patient can sometimes be done creatively. If you are a creative nurse, finding an outlet to express your emotions can help you in a big way. You can try crafting, arts or painting, joining an art club, or anything creative. Nurses need a break, too, significantly when they are affected deeply by the death of a patient. Pent-up emotions can be deadly, so finding an outlet to destress helps.
We all deal with death and dying differently. Choosing the path of being a professional nurse means you will be exposed to death more often than you think, so be ready for such cases. Remember that death does not mean you failed as a nurse, nor does it signify the end of patient care.
Your life and job as a nurse are bittersweet – there will always be ups and downs. Always remember that the way you cared for and loved your patients will be remembered by those around them, so keep doing your best!