A few weeks ago, I received a message from someone I am connected with on Facebook, but I have never met. Like myself, she is a hospice nurse, and can appreciate the blogs and postings I share relative to the work we both do. The private message she sent me, elicited several different responses for me and took me a little by surprise. In a good way.
She wrote to me after reading one of my blogs in which I shared very honestly, the deep ache I sometimes experience after a patient dies, and the myriad of different ways it affects me. This is a common theme in most of my blogs, as part of my self-care is writing about the experiences I have. Her concern was that I was struggling with boundaries, and she was worried about me. When I first read her message, I wasn’t upset, but I had a moment where I felt inadequate somehow, like I was not doing my job right, and becoming too emotional after a death or feeling things too deeply for my patients. Her words made me question myself.
I read her message several times before I was able to respond, and I took her words to heart. After about the third time I read it, I was able to see that she was coming from a kind and beautiful place, and probably from a perspective of appreciating the difficulty and importance of setting boundaries, especially when working in end of life care.
The work we do is so intimate and personal, it is very hard not to get attached, not to feel things deeply, not to ache inside when we witness the tearful goodbyes at the end of life. Whether you spend months, days or hours at a bedside, those moments we share with patients and families affects us, and most of us… take it home. Do I cry? Yes, and sometimes at the bedside. Do I fling myself on the bed and sob hysterically? No. But I do take it with me when I leave their home. And this is where the healing and the work needs to take place.
I loved her message because it was the reminder that I needed, to work on things like boundaries, and remembering to feel things, but also to be able to let them go. It is something we must practice all the time, it is not easy to do, and I think we are all a work in progress, in that regard.
At least for me, in order to provide the comfort and care I do for our patients and those who love them, I need to be fully present, completely authentic with who I am, and share my whole heart. Having said that though, I understand that I also need to set boundaries, not lose myself in their experience and not allow it to weigh so heavy on me that I fall apart, break down or end up losing my passion for this amazing, beautiful work.
I found this quote when I was researching “boundaries”. It resonated with me.
“A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin, and the other person ends . . . The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you”
I am incredibly thankful she reached out to me. On one level, I am touched by her kindness and compassion, and on the other, it was that reminder I needed to practice self-care, to truly process each experience and let it go appropriately. I feel things deeply, it is a part of who I am, and I have no intention of changing. I love the work I get to do, and I love that my heart has made itself so available for other people. But… I need to save some space inside this heart of mine, for myself… to work through and process each experience I am blessed to have, to hold the reminder of how sacred and special life is, and to allow it to comfort me when I grieve… which I do, and often.
Boundaries? In hospice? Is that a thing? Yes. In fact, it is one of the most important things that we absolutely must honor and respect for ourselves, while doing this work.