The Truth About Death and the Nursing Home

For the past, almost five years, I have worked in a nursing facility. Starting out I worked in Palliative Care (a program set up to aide residents and families in the process of dying). Two years later I switched to another department within the same facility; however, I still experience death on a weekly bases.

The uncomfortable aspect of death that no one wants to think about is the aspect of life I see most often. This post is what I would like you to know, especially if you are met with this situation.

On occasion an elderly person will peacefully pass away in their sleep; however, that isn’t always the case. The reality is, death is a process, a process that may take a few days or a few weeks.

Death begins with loss of appetite, lack of desire to interact with others, more it moves to weight loss and those things only progress until the person passes on. During this time, when families gather around their loved one, is one of the most precious and sensitive moments to witness.

I’ve learned that everyone handles grief in different ways, each way unique to the person feeling the grief and each way perfectly okay.

Some people will mask their pain with humor, cracking jokes or saying things that are moderately inappropriate. Others will get quiet, others will get angry and some may even ignore the entire thing and pretend it isn’t happening. I’ve witnessed people cry, pace back and forth while scrolling through their phones trying everything in their power to not acknowledge what is happening.

This time is a vulnerable time, it’s a time when loved ones face the reality that the person who raised them or who they grew up with isn’t going to be around much longer. Every minute is special. Every second cherished as it could very well be the last.

During this time, don’t be afraid to cry even if you aren’t typically a crier. Don’t be afraid to turn to faith. I’ve had non-religious people ask me if there was a priest that could come in and say a prayer, I’ve had grown men who appear to be tough as nails cry (because yes that’s okay) and ask me how they’ll manage. I’ve been yelled at (don’t worry, I know you don’t mean it), I’ve been told inappropriate jokes, I’ve given hugs and I’ve been held onto as if I’m the only thing keeping that person from falling to their knees. None of that is wrong.

There is no wrong way to cope. There is no wrong way to grieve. There are only the feelings that sting down to your core and often times, we as humans, aren’t sure what to do with those feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People who work around death know a thing or two, we don’t have all of the answers, no one does. We can’t make it better, we can’t take the feelings away, but we may be able to say a thing or two that might help you regain strength in your knees and understand that nothing about this is okay yet you will be; eventually.

When a person is dying, the world is at it’s most vulnerable. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to not be okay.

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