After spending many weeks with a gentleman who was dying, I was honored that he requested me to be there when he took his last breath. I got very attached to him and to his family, it was hard not too... they were lovely. He was the kindest man I had ever met. He showed me love of family, love of faith, love of life, and most importantly, finding peace with death, which he did in a most beautiful way.
This was early on in my career, I had only just become a hospice nurse.
I slept in a chair next to his bed for two days until he died. His wife had started losing her cognitive ability and their caregiver was unavailable, so I stepped in. I did not leave his side until that last breath was taken.
Later that day, I walked outside with the hospice doctor, and I started to cry. I had kept my emotions inside, I never showed the effect any of this was having on me, and even when I looked over and told his wife he was gone, I did not cry. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I apologized to the doctor for crying. I was embarrassed, I felt like maybe he would judge me, and that I was not emotionally capable of doing this work. But I was wrong.
He looked right at me, into my eyes, and he told me to feel whatever I was feeling. He gave me permission to ache for this loss, which was mine too. He told me that in order to be able to do this work well, we have to remember that we are bearing witness to the end of a life. He said that if I should ever stop feeling a sense of sadness witnessing a last goodbye, only then should I be concerned about whether or not I am capable of continuing to do this work.
He told me it was okay to cry, and then he leaned in, and he held me until I was done. We stood on that sidewalk for what seemed like hours, and I felt all the feelings that happen when you witness the last breath of a human being.
It was that moment when I realized that it was okay for me to cry. It is not okay to throw yourself across their bed, or sob uncontrollably, you absolutely must have some sense of decorum, but at the end of the day if you witness a death, and a last goodbye, it is okay to cry.
Crying, for me, is very healing. It is a comforting release, something that happens easily and often, and not just when I witness someone die. I used to joke that I wished I had a special remote that could keep my tears in check. I would apologize for having an emotional reaction that always leads to tears. In many ways it removes any chance for me to keep my feelings to myself, I am transparent in that regard, which is not always a good thing. But it is who I am, and I am okay with that.
Sometimes my tears are soft and gentle
Sometimes they sting my eyes
Sometimes there is no reaction
Sometimes I might not cry
But every time I witness death
And every time someone says goodbye
I feel something deep within It's hard to keep it tucked inside
When a life has ended
No matter how hard I try
I have learned...
That it's okay to cry.