Coping with death in nursing, caring and other related professions.

Coping with death in nursing and if you are in any of the caring professions is part of the job.   Elizabeth Postle, a nurse with 45 years experience explains.  

When anyone decides to enter into a medical, nursing or care industry, it's with the intention of helping people. Sadly death is also an integral part of the job. It is particularly difficult when the deceased is a child or a client you have known for a long time.

Coping with death in a hospital or care home

Every hospital and care home has procedures to follow in the event of a death occurring. These routines keep you focused and personal emotions have to be contained. Check out the link below about things that should be done in the event of a death to keep you focused on what needs to be done. 

What to do when someone dies

Flowers help us to cope with death

Coping with your emotions after a death on the ward

When the family arrive, they need the support and guidance of the care staff. It doesn’t hurt to shed a tear with them, give them a hug and say how sorry you are.

However, your own deeper emotions have to be controlled in order to continue with your work load. These points will help you to do that:  

  • Have a cup of tea with other staff later and discuss the death. Talk about your day, but for now ward and care home routines go on.
  • Keeping busy always helps one to cope. It helps to focus in on details of jobs needed to be done.
  • It may have been a first experience of death for carers or nurses new to the job. More experienced staff should make sure they give clear guidance and support to their staff. Talk over the day’s work.
  • Talking with a counsellor or social worker can be a comfort for staff as well as grieving relatives.
  • You can work on a ward for months, and then have several deaths in a matter of weeks. Life and death are not predictable.
  • Some staff like to attend the funerals of their patients, especially if they have cared for the client for many months, or even years. Relatives appreciate this too.
  • In the privacy of your own home, it’s no shame to have a good cry over a young child’s death or a long term resident. It’s a good way to relieve your stress too.
White roses to express grief

The ups and downs of the care setting

In any care setting you can have relatives deeply sad at a death, and at the same time others thrilled at the recovery of a loved one. The carers' emotions have to be managed to cope with both ends of the spectrum.

You learn how to compartmentalise your own emotions, reach out to clients and families and meet their needs at the time.

Get support for yourself

If you are a doctor, nurse, carer, paramedic or member of the rescue services coping with death it is important to create your own support team. It may be a colleague, another care worker, a social worker, a minister or a good friend. You need someone to comfort you when you’ve had a difficult time at work.

There will often be sad times. Client privacy is always important, but a general chat about a difficult day really does help.

Sometimes a patient has been so ill and in pain that the death is in many ways a relief. In others it is a sudden death and a shock. In that case, it is a comfort to know that it was quick and they didn’t have to suffer at all.

We never really get used to someone dying, as it brings up lots of issues such as guilt, for example. You might ask yourself whether you could have done more to help – did you miss any symptoms?

It brings up fears of our own mortality and that of close family. Any grief you had for a close family member or friend is also brought back into your thoughts.

It might be your first introduction to death. Society today tends to keep funerals private. We rarely see people stopping when funeral cars go by. We don’t witness “wakes” for friends and neighbours to say their goodbyes. The care industry will certainly give you lots of roller coaster rides of emotions, but you will meet many courageous people on the way. It is a privilege to work with many of these wonderful caring people.

So how do you cope?

Take each day as it comes. Do what you can to help but care for yourself too. Don’t be afraid to seek help and advice when you need it.

We never really get used to someone dying, we just become able to cope with the routines and procedures surrounding it.

Care of the dying, and easing the path for the relatives is a very important part of the care professional's role and if you love the job you will cope. You will also get tremendous satisfaction from helping families at a difficult time for them. 

RElated Pages: 

Coping with Death and Grief for Medical Professionals

Alzheimer's Final Stages

What to Do When Someone Dies

Helping Others Cope with Grief

If you are coping with Alzheimer's disease you might find our book helpful.  Written by the author of this website, Elizabeth Postle, it has a lot of practical information about caring, as well as emotional support to help with the grief and stress of caring.  Click on the book to learn more. 

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Memorial Magnolia Tree

The Magnolia is one of the earth's oldest plants, with a spectacular flower which dates back 95 million years.  What a beautiful specimen to commemorate a life. 

These trees are grown by the foremost magnolia nursery in the country and they will send a variety most suited to the recipient's climate. 

The flowers in spring will bring joy to the bereaved and help to heal their heart.


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