"I have wanted to take care of dying patients since my first semester of nursing school.
I was drawn to the dying patients.
I was drawn to figuring out what would make them the most comfortable at the end of their life, how to make the end of their life just as beautiful and touching as the beginning."
Kristi Selby is an end of life nurse.
I met her the other day and asked if I could tell her story.
Here’s what she wrote to me:
Our society focuses on getting people better, but when that isn't an option any longer, then what?
So, that is where I come in.
The saddest part about my job is the people I take care of who are close to my age or younger.
The disease is usually cancer or ALS.
I am pretty good at keeping it together while I am with them.
I do my job, I take care of them, I keep them as comfortable as possible.
I give them the best of me in the time I am with them.
And when I leave, I sit in my car and I cry.
I cry for the life they won't get to live, I cry for their kids, I cry for their parents,
I cry for the loved ones who didn't get enough time.
Today, I cried.
Today was a tough day.
Today I will go home and hug my kids a little tighter and tell my family how much I love them.
Yes, there is one patient in particular who stands out.
He moved back east to live out the rest of his life.
We were very close.
He was a COPD patient, he had a terrible time breathing, he had so much pain daily, he had every reason to be angry, but he wasn't.
He was kind, he was always laughing and he never once complained.
He never once asked "why, me?"
He taught me so much about the human spirit, about how to live with whatever time we have left.
He was a patient I had to say goodbye to, but not because he died, but because he had a goal of getting home to Pennsylvania to spend the rest of his life there.
He was told he shouldn't.
That it was too risky.
That he wouldn't live long after he arrived.
But last July he went anyway and he is still alive.
He is living exactly where he wants to be living.
And he will die exactly where he wants to die.
And so, as much as I love helping people die with dignity and comfort, I realized I also love helping people live their life in the time they have left.
We call it "holding space".
Motivational speaker Heather Plett said it best when she said:
"Holding space is when we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome.”
“When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control."
That is the role of a nurse at the end of life.
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