Coping With Death in the Workplace:

Coping With Death in the Workplace:

November 05, 2021

Coping With Death in the Workplace:

“Grief is the price we pay for love” - Queen Elizabeth II. This quote is something that resonates with me. As nurses, we care so strongly about our patients, we may care for these individuals for minutes to months, yet we create a bond unlike any other in these periods of time. Often our patients' passing will be peaceful and surrounded by family, and other times it is  traumatic and lonely. We may wonder, did we do everything we could? If I were a better nurse would they have pulled through? Did I miss something that could have been a warning sign? What if we intubated them even a minute fast? All of these what if’s can leave us distressed after a patient's passing, and can become something we bring home with us.


I’ve caught myself thinking about patients' deaths for days and weeks after they’ve happened wondering all of those same questions. I’ve cried in the bathroom after codes, and driven home in silence after shifts with a heavy heart. But all of these hard feelings remind me that I am human,  and nursing does not have to make me cold to death and sadness. 


Death can wear on any healthcare worker whether you work in palliative care, and you see death daily, or if your work in labour and delivery and death is very rare. Sometimes the death of patients will remind you of the passing of your own friends or family members, which can add additional sadness to the passing. 


Death is inevitable, but how we cope with death shows the resilience that all nurses carry. You are allowed to grieve your patients, you are allowed to be sad, or feel hollow for a while. It is okay - because we are human and it is natural to be sad following death. Even thogu death is inevitable, that does not mean we can neglect our own self care after a patients passing. I have come up with a list of some ideas you can try and incorporate in your routine after a patient’s passing:


  1. Share your feelings with a trusted coworker. Whether it’s your work bestie, or your manager - your co-workers often understand the feelings surrounding death in a different way than your friends or family might. Debriefing is often one of the best ways to release heavy thoughts, especially if other co-workers feel impacted by the patients passing as well.
  2. Cry a little, or alot. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shedding a few tears, and often it can help you release some of the sadness you may be carrying.
  3. Call into your next shift if you need time to clear your head. Following a specifically traumatic passing you may need some time off. That is okay, we need to feel our best to take care of our future patients, and time away from the workplace can help you heal.
  4. Journal. Write down your thoughts about your patients, about your sadness, express your thoughts in a safe and private space.
  5. Contact help lines provided by your place of employment. The health authorities I have worked for have offered help/crisis lines to call incase of traumatic work events. THis gives you a safe space to share your thoughts and experiences free of judgement. Look into your workplace, and see if they offer a similar program.
  6. Remind yourself you did the best you can, and you are still a great nurse.

Written by: Holly Peacock

Instagram: babynurseholly



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