One of the constant descriptions you hear about nurses is “they’re angels”, which would be rapidly followed by a comment about how “nursing is a noble profession”. When I was nursing, there were times when both statements would annoy me. I remember snapping at my dad once, saying “there’s nothing noble about watching a dying man trying to tell his wife he loves her when she won’t damn well listen!”.
Because I spent much of my nursing career working on cancer wards, together with a year working in Radiotherapy And Oncology Outpatients, I rapidly came to the conclusion that, if I was an angel then I was an angel of death, since I spent most of my time trying to make the dying comfortable.
I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. It can’t be helped - several of my friends have either lost a parent this year or are experiencing the pain of watching a parent undergo life-prolonging treatment for terminal cancer. Perhaps it’s our age. It’s the alternative mid-life crisis; not so much “life is passing me by -what do I do with myself?” but instead “I’m not old enough to lose my mum/dad! How can this happen to me?”.
As a friend, I have learned that the best thing to do is listen, hug your friend and ply them with tea/suitable beverage. Offers of help need to be specific: “do you need me to collect your brother from the airport?” is easier for a grieving mind to process than being asked “is there anything I can do to help?”.
On Saturday, I will be singing in a service to celebrate the life of a dear friend’s dad; a lovely man who recently lost an 18 month battle with pancreatic cancer. I consider it an honour and a privilege to have been asked. It is my gift to my friend and her family. I hope they gain a level of comfort from it.
PS: The other life lesson I’ve learned is that marriage makes things far easier if your life-partner dies – from organising the funeral to dealing with the deceased’s estate, being married to your partner will make things much, much easier. There is no such thing as de facto marriage in this country, so if there isn’t a will the surviving partner will lose everything. Even if there is a will, they won’t be sheltered from inheritance tax on the estate. (And don’t get me started on hospitals/doctors who refuse to give spouse status to the non-married life-partner of a patient….Red rag to a bull, that….)