END OF LIFE – NURSES DON’T JUDGE FAMILIES

I don’t know if you remember me, Virginia, but I have never forgotten the last time I spoke to you, and it has bothered me all these years.” I did remember her, as well as her husband and her mother-in-law, who had been our resident.

“I do remember you Thelma, but I honestly don’t remember the last time I spoke to you.” I responded.

Thelma then told me of the day years ago when I had called to tell her that her mother-in-law didn’t have much more time and we wanted them to know. Thelma told me she had informed me that they were in the middle of a family party and it was a bad time for me to call. She said it had bothered her every time she had thought of it, that she had been so rude to me that day.

She remembered how her mother-in-law had died that night, and they hadn’t come to be with her. I reassured her that I really hadn’t thought about it at all, or her response. That I didn’t judge her, just had wanted her to know.
“I’m sure that your mother-in-law didn’t die alone, Thelma.” It had always been our tradition to have staff members who cared for the resident to take turns sitting with them, when family couldn’t be there, when they died. “ I am very sure Betty didn’t die alone.” I said.

More than remembering Thelma, I well-remembered, Betty. From the day Betty arrived, until she no longer could communicate, she constantly cried out, “Help me, help me I’m falling.” No matter if she was sitting on a couch, lying in bed, or had placed herself on the floor, she repeated that phrase, over and over.

We had had her ears checked, reviewed her medications, sent her to numerous physicians and never found out why this very old woman had the constant sensation of falling. But call out she did, day and night, “Help me, help me I’m falling.”

Leave Betty to die alone? No, that wouldn’t have happened.

Now Thelma is old, her husband is gone as well as her mother-in-law. Now Thelma lives with us after having some health problems requiring hands on care. And every time she sees me, she tries to once again explain that day so long ago now. That day, she can’t seem to forget, the day she didn’t come.

Virginia Garberding, R.N.
Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing