Living With Dying articles

Death through the eyes of nurses - online extra

By Leah Carey
June 7, 2016

While Christa Simmons-Beniash has become comfortable with the subject of death through her work as a nurse at Littleton Regional Healthcare, she knows that it’s scary for many people.

“This is such an important subject to talk about and people are so afraid,” Christa said. “But they don’t need to be afraid because there can be a lot of joy and a lot of peace in it. So shine a light on it.”

She and LRH nurses aide Christina Courville have seen enough death to make some general observations and offer their own beliefs about how people tend to exit this life.

Waiting to go

“A lot of patients wait for their families to go,” said Christina. “We say that they like to wait. I’ve seen times when their family has left and they’re gone within minutes.”

“Maybe that’s the beauty of it,” agreed Christa. “The family and friends leave and the person passes because they don’t want to burden them. The person knew that their family might not have been able to process that, and that might be a source of something they’d have to heal from.”

Redefining suffering

“I see a lot of people … who moreso suffer. Or come off like they are,” said Christina. “But I honestly think that’s just their body reacting. I don’t think it’s really their body suffering. I think they’re already at peace. I think they’re already – they’re just not there. I think it’s just their body just reacting to the end of life. I don’t see them as suffering.”

After a moment she smiled and said, “Maybe, maybe not, I’m not sure. But I say they’re not. It makes me feel better about the end.”

“Oftentimes, although their physical body is still alive, I think that spiritually they’re not there,” added Christa. “Their spirit, or whatever, has crossed and they’re just – they’re waiting for you. Or waiting for their family to go so they can just kind of – it becomes your process. Not so much theirs. That’s what I think.”

“I believe that they’re already passed at that point,” said Christina. “I believe they’re already somewhere happy, with their families. They don’t go until there’s family waiting for them. That’s my belief because that’s what gets me through things.”

Being with the family

“It doesn’t make me nervous being with a patient,” said Christina. “It makes me nervous when a family is around, honestly. Because I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing, I don’t know if I’m doing what they want me to do. I don’t know if I’m doing enough. And we just don’t talk about it – unless they want to. So I just never know if I’m doing the right thing. So I just do my own thing, what I know.”

“For me it’s just a matter of listening. I just want to be able to listen,” said Christa. “I just like to listen and be present if they need me to be there, the families and the patient. I find most of the time the patient doesn’t really need a whole lot. They just need quiet and a sense of peace.”

How do you handle a family that’s angry or upset?

“In my own experience, not work related, my brother had passed,” said Christina. “So I was very angry. He was 19. I was very angry at the situation. So I understand. I understand anger. It’s part of it, part of the grieving process.”

“It’s their healing process and we just have to give them their space,” said Christa.

“I sit back. I just let them be. They’re angry at the situation, not at me,” said Christina. “I don’t take offense at anything, I don’t take it to heart.”

Training for death

When Christina worked as an aide at a nursing home, she got a brief training in death and dying. “That was just a couple week course. And that didn’t teach you anything, really,” she said. “It’s really your own thing. You deal with it your own way.”

“There is a little bit of education [in nursing school]. We didn’t do a lot of it,” concurred Christa. “It’s basically what you’re saying. Until you’re there and experience it, I think, like most things, you just don’t know.”

“There is no book that can teach you how to feel or how to act during it,” said Christina. “Everyone does it differently.”

“It’s an incredibly profound experience that I don’t really know how to put in words,” added Christa. “That’s a sacred moment for people, but scary for families at the same time. So to blend that is not an easy thing. I think we’re just a guide, a facilitator, for people.”

“I want them to know that it’s okay,” said Christina. “That they’re okay. That the family is okay. Letting them know that it’s okay to go … our job is very emotional.”

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