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Watching Loved One Die So Much Harder Than I Thought


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I worked as nurse in critical care setting for over 20 years. I always wanted to be there to care for my parents when they needed me. My father died 3 months ago and I flew home to care for him. I'm so glad I was there for them but was surprised how hard it was to watch him die knowing I couldn't do more than hopefully make him as comfortable as possibe. I've have always been pretty stoic and was so throughout the illness, death, funeral,and for a while after. I was surprised when the last few weeks I started experiencing overwelming sadness. Any little thing like a fight with my husband or a less than stellor grade from my teenager just sends me into a tailspin and a well of despair I have a hard time climbing out of. Is this kind of delayed responce typical?

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Rox, dear, I'm so sorry to learn of the death of your father. Clearly you are a devoted daughter, caring for him as you did in the last three months of his life and taking care of everything afterward. With all you had to address, it's not at all surprising to me that all the feelings you had to suppress are coming out now. That seems perfectly understandable under the circumstances. This was nature's way of putting your own grief on hold so you could focus on the tasks at hand, and as a nurse I'm sure this behavior came fairly naturally to you. But now that these heavy duties and responsibilities are behind you, and despite all your professional education and training, you find yourself experiencing the very raw and powerful feelings of loss. Grief is like that — it can wait until you are free to deal with it, and it can knock you flat and leave you feeling crazy, sad, irritable, isolated and vulnerable.

So often we healthcare professionals (and most especially, we nurses!) believe that we "should" be strong in situations like this, and capable of handling everything that needs doing. When it comes to caring for our dying parents, instead of just being the daughter, we feel a need to become the Director of Nursing in their care! We hold such unrealistically high expectations of ourselves, don't we?

Just remember that although you're capable and strong, you are also human. You do not have supernatural powers to avoid very real, very human feelings. You are allowed to feel this way now. It doesn't mean that you are weak. It means that you are just beginning to let in and to experience the very raw feelings of grief. This is a process you've only just begun. Understand that it is safe now for you to give in to these feelings you've had to hold at bay for a very long time. That's what enabled you to get the job done. But now you're faced with different tasks: experiencing, expressing and working through your grief as you come to terms with the death of your father. Allow yourself to be with your grief now.

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