Fragile does not mean weak.
Updated: Jul 15
Many times, while working in end-of-life care, I have felt like I was almost obligated to reassure people that this work is not hard, and when asked how I can do it, I always come up with an answer that would soothe or comfort them. My answers always came from my heart and were definitely how I feel about the work I do, but I have never really felt safe or comfortable to share the deep-down difficult stuff.
Working during COVID gave me permission to say, "THIS IS REALLY HARD," but not for the reasons you might assume. For me I struggled with why I was allowed at their bedside and the people who loved them were not. I struggled with not holding the hand of someone who was dying or hugging the person who was saying goodbye. I cried every time I held a phone up to their ear moments before last breaths, so that the last voice they heard was someone they love who was not allowed to be there with them. This broke me down... and yet I still had the answers most people preferred to hear.
I was talking to a friend yesterday, also a hospice nurse, and I said to her, "sometimes I feel like I am faking it, pretending this work is not difficult, and that it doesn't take its toll." She said she feels this way too. We witness death, the anticipation of death, and the grief following a death, almost every single day. It is really hard work. It is hard to be strong and stoic, to hold back the emotional reactions we all feel, and it is hard not becoming numb to it all.
Sometimes our bodies tell us to stay on the couch and not move, and sometimes they tell us to curl up under the covers and hide, and we punish ourselves when we feel this way, as if we are weak and unable to tough it out. But the truth is, we need to give ourselves permission to crawl under those covers, and not feel guilty about it. This took some time for me to learn.
Part of our self-care is listening to our bodies and what they need, which does sometimes mean hiding under the covers, which will hopefully be followed by taking a walk, or calling a friend, or playing in your garden. We must find balance.
For a long time, I think I felt like if I admitted how hard it was, or how fragile I was feeling, it would mean I was not up to the task of taking on this job, and that perhaps I was too weak to do it. But that is not the case at all, I am fragile, but I am not weak. Weak would be not admitting you have tough days, weak would be not honoring what your body says to you, and weak would be not accepting that you are a human being doing a job that many could never even attempt, which is hard, and sad, and can take its toll... but it is also beautiful and fills my soul, and I wouldn't have it any other way.