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Should You Attend a Patient's Funeral?

Should You Attend a Patient's Funeral?

Marijke Durning | Scrubs Magazine

October 05, 2010

Death is an inevitable outcome of life. We all know it. Nurses spend their days and nights trying to help patients outsmart death or hold it off as long as possible. If nurses work in hospice or palliative care, they don’t prolong life, but they help their patients as they live their last days before death claims them.

Yet despite it being unavoidable, we don’t generally discuss death in our society. We acknowledge it when it occurs, but discussion about death is considered morbid, and we often preface conversations about our own future death or that of loved ones by saying something like “God forbid.”

No Discussion

One side effect of not discussing death is that we may not know or understand what is appropriate when death does occur. Sure, we know about the visitations and funerals, but any discomfort we may feel is usually fueled by inexperience, particularly if the death is of someone of a different faith or culture, whose families may have rituals that we’ve not yet seen.

An issue that faces some nurses in relation to death is that of attending funerals, unsure of the appropriateness of their presence. They may ask, “Is it okay to attend my patient’s funeral?” They aren’t sure if they would be welcome, if it is allowed or if they will personally benefit from this ritual.

Funerals Aren’t for the Dead

It may sound cliché, but funerals aren’t for the dead; they are for the living. Whether the event is a sad and conservative affair or a celebration of life, funerals are a way for people to say good-bye, to have closure. While not everyone needs to attend a funeral to have this closure, the ritual is society’s way of allowing people to do so in a public manner. Attending funerals also allows you to offer support to those who are left behind to mourn.

Nurses are in a unique position when it comes to death. Depending on our area of work, we can see death frequently, even daily. While we don’t usually become immune to death, the nature of our work in certain areas doesn’t allow us to get too attached to patients as they pass through our care.

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