To Make a Living Caring for the Dying

Lydia Darrah, Student Writer

Watching a loved one pass is undoubtedly one of the most painful experiences one can have and most of us know exactly how it feels. As heartbreaking as it is to know of someone who has died suddenly and sometimes unexpectedly, what about those who know for an extensive amount of time? And what about those who must care for them despite their fate? Hospice nurses do just that. They work long shifts and often with inconvenient schedules to ensure the comfort and care of people who are suffering.

Hospice care is a type of health care that focuses on helping terminally ill patient’s pain and symptoms and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs. Hospice care has a palliative focus without curative intent as these people are believed to be in their last days. A hospice nurse, then, is the person who must care for these people and work hours upon hours every week toward their comfort. Employers typically require at least a BSN to work in a hospital with these patients but many hospice nurses also work bedside and travel to the homes of those who need them. Regardless of the type, however, it seems the difficult part is to be expected to complete your job knowing nothing can truly be done to help your patient.

Despite everything that may make the job unappealing to most, Brigid Darrah, a hospice nurse at the Lehigh Valley Health Network, says she wouldn’t want to do anything else. In fact, she says she’s known since high school that this was her destined career. When asked what she loves most about it, she said, “the best part is getting to see my patients and have real, candid conversations because they are not afraid to talk about things. Everything is fair game to them, and that makes a lot of sense.” But the worst? “When I leave each day, I don’t know if I’ll see them. It’s as if there is no such thing as “see you later” in their world and it’s heartbreaking.” Darrah says she keeps track of obituaries to know when her patients pass and often spends time reaching out to family and friends of theirs.

Hospice nurses hardly get the credit they deserve. The job is not glamorous and not remotely motivating for the average person but the work they do is out of the pure desire to help those who others have written off. It is no less than humanitarian work. All too often, even the patients’ family and friends stop making the effort to visit so it is up to nurses like Brigid to raise their spirits. But how can we help? Most hospice units allow hand-maid cards and letters from the general public. So maybe this year make it a goal to focus on those who may not have the time left themselves.