Nurses are no strangers to death. We comfort and support those who are left to carry on the best that we can, showing empathy and compassion when emotions are raw. Although our hearts connect with grieving families and friends on a deeply human level, there is still a professional boundary that confers a measure of immunity. That boundary dissolves, however, when a beloved coworker dies, especially when it is sudden or unexpected.
First there's the shock of receiving the news and the inevitable questions and confusion that follow. It is hard to envision working without the individual present and part of the team. Grief can be overwhelming; caregivers need caregivers for comfort and support, but patients still need care despite the tragedy. The staff, though devastated, carry on diligently because that's what professionals do.
Our coworkers often become a second family. We share intense moments, overcome challenges, and celebrate successes. A coworker's death hurts a great deal, but we can take actions that can help in the most difficult of times. Early on, engage the chaplains and other emotional support providers; they can be excellent resources to help staff cope with the loss through private meetings or group sessions. Call upon nurses from other units who have a common skill base to pick up extra time and cover the staff most impacted so they can attend bereavement support or funeral services without worrying about leaving the unit short. Enlist the support of nurse leaders to cover assignments and arrange for food delivery so staff can share meals and memories together.
Because nurses are action-oriented, assisting others can help some nurses manage their own grief. Ideas include organizing several days of meal deliveries to the deceased coworker's family or establishing a way to make donations to offset expenses such as childcare, the funeral, or medical bills. If a memorial is desired, consider planting a tree, funding an inscribed park bench, creating a nursing education fund or scholarship, or dedicating a bulletin board to honor special memories about the individual. If you have ideas that you want to share on this topic, please write to me so that I can include them in an upcoming Nursing2019 blog or in Letters to the Editor.
This editorial is dedicated to Katrina, a nurse from my ED, and all of our coworkers who have left this world far too soon.
Until next time,
LINDA LASKOWSKI-JONES, MS, APRN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM, FAAN