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It is healthy to grieve and reflect when a patient dies

A stigma remains in nursing over becoming emotional because a patient you cared for has died, but community nurse Clare Tinnion says grieving shows she has done her job well

A stigma remains in nursing over becoming emotional because a patient you cared for has died, but community nurse Clare Tinnion says grieving shows she has done her job well

Picture shows image in the shape of a heart in pastel colours. A community nurse says a stigma remains over becoming emotional because a patient you cared for has died, but argues that grieving shows she has done her job well.
Picture: iStock

In nursing, some stigma remains about feeling emotion. It can be perceived as not being good enough, or being unprofessional and too sensitive. During my training I even heard the question: ‘Why are you doing this job if you get upset?’

Thankfully, the tide is turning, or at least it is changing in the community team I work in. Recently I experienced the death of a patient I had cared for on an almost daily basis as a community nurse for two years. I had known her for five years.

I provided her and her husband and carer with emotional support up until her death.

Each death I have previously experienced changed me as a person and, more importantly, as a practitioner.

It’s a privilege to care for people at their most vulnerable

When asked how I cope with experiencing death, I always respond that it has been a true privilege to be a part of. It is a privilege to care for a patient and their family at their most vulnerable, to provide not just physical but also emotional support.

Providing emotional support is as important as managing physical symptoms. I go home each night knowing I have done my best. Usually that is enough, or it was until I experienced the death of this patient. After her death I grieved for her.

Initially I was concerned, asking myself if I had become too involved. How could I prevent this in the future? However, on reflection I understood that I wouldn’t provide the same quality of care if I didn’t truly care about each patient. I wouldn’t empathise or provide the same support.

Changing attitudes make it more acceptable to discuss feelings

I have since written a reflection on this, sharing it with my supervisor. Reflection allowed me to review my actions and consider what I might do differently in similar situations.

Regular clinical supervision in the workplace is particularly useful in a community setting, as we nurses spend most of our days working independently. It is always useful to receive advice and guidance from colleagues to improve evidence-based practice.

Developing as a practitioner and understanding how to cope in situations such as these is a steep learning curve. With attitudes towards mental health changing it is more acceptable to discuss how we feel.

Following the death of this patient each of my colleagues checked to see how I was coping. My supervisor, who had known the patient longer than I had, also grappled with her emotions, which we discussed in an open and honest reflection of the care provided.

What it means to be a community nurse

My supervisor dealt with two deaths on that same day. They were two patients she had known for years and genuinely cared for. She carried on working, taking blood samples, dressing wounds, measuring for hosiery, administering injections and liaising with other professionals.

No one she met would have had an inkling from what she had done that day that she was feeling such sadness. This, to me, is community nursing.

In my role I get to know patients over a period of years, building lasting, therapeutic and professional relationships. If I didn’t feel some form of grief when they died, could I honestly say I had done my job well?

 I’m sure I will shed more tears over the course of my career. But I will talk about it. I will educate my colleagues, and we will reflect together.


Clare TinnionClare Tinnion is a community nurse

@claretinnion1

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