I have been reading Nina Mishkin’s posts at her Getting Old blog for some time. I have read some truly beautiful and thought provoking posts there. Yesterday she wrote a heart wrenching post about what happened after her partner, Bill, died of pulmonary fibrosis a few months ago and I could not resist reblogging it. Everyone in healthcare must remember that our duty to the dying does not simply end when that patient’s life ends. It must extend also to the individuals left in that hospital room.

The Getting Old Blog

This is not a philosophical question, or a religious one. It’s a question about what happens to the person sitting by a hospital bedside when the occupant of the bed, someone who was loved and cherished, becomes (suddenly or at last) “the deceased,” dies perhaps even while the sun is still shining brightly through the clean hospital windows, mocking the dark ache in the heart of the solitary survivor.

In the hospital where Bill died early in May, a four-year-old state-of-the-art hospital in upscale Princeton, New Jersey — home of a world-renowned university, of the Institute for Advanced Studies (where Albert Einstein found safe harbor after fleeing anti-Semitism in Europe during World War II), and of Westminister Choir College, whose graduates grace stages in many celebrated opera houses – in this spiffy new hospital, the person blinded by tears who holds the still-warm hand of a new cadaver…

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37 thoughts on “AFTER DEATH, WHAT?

  1. Reading this post in full brought back many memories of watching both my parents die. I don’t think that we experienced anything as cold and uncaring as this wonderful woman had to endure. So very sad, and also such an important reminder to healthcare providers. Thank you for re-posting Victo.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for the shout-out, Victo. You certainly sent quite a lot of new readers my way — for which even more thanks! Reading the comments about this post, both here and on my own blog, I’m glad to learn there are still some doctors and nurses (I will use the old fashioned words, and not coldly call them “healthcare providers”) who have hearts as well as medical training. I do understand it must be almost unbearable to expose oneself to the pain and anguish in intensive care units, and perhaps that partially explains the need some doctors and nurses experience to shut themselves off from feeling too much for the surviving families as well as for the patients. On the other hand, when you’re on the receiving end of such disregard, it does make you feel even more alone. Blogging about it certainly helps!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I appreciate you writing about your experience so eloquently and letting me share it further with others. I have watched many physicians and nurses, even in the throes of physical and emotional exhaustion, still show courtesy and respect to the grieving. What you experienced was wrong but I am certain it is not uncommon from what I am told by others. I hope that talking about it and sharing it will help keep others from experiencing that same.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. After reading her whole post, all I can say is my heart goes out to her.

    Maybe those doctors and nurses had a reason for being so flat and business-like about the whole thing, but it’s just awful not to take a moment to offer up some sympathy. Just a compassionate word or a hug or even a cup of coffee. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks so much for reposting this and introducing such a sweet blogger to us. So sad she had to go through that. My husband is an RN and worked many years in an intensive care unit of a major hospital. He was so caring with his patients and had several disciplinary hearings for being “too personal” with the patients families. he was fired for giving a grieving wife a HUG after her husband passed away. He works for Hospice now and I am so grateful that they encourage their nurses to provide emotional support to family members. No one should have to go through that pain alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So sad, but what I would expect from a hospital. So glad my father had hospice, at home. In fact, all I know lucky enough to have had hospice at hand for the end of life have nothing but good things to say. Unfortunately, the way medicine is set up now, emotional bonds are discouraged in the normal course of care. And to be alone! Thank goodness one person had the heart to respond to the need for some kind of acknowledgement. (K)

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  6. This kind of story makes me furious. That those who teach medical classes either aren’t smart enough or caring enough or empathetic enough to include training regarding all the human interactions that need to happen either during hospital stays or after the death of one under their care, shows an inexcusable failure in the programs. Worse than that, even without formal training one would think simply the fact of being human would touch something in the hearts and minds of medical professionals. Are they so sociopathic that they can’t sense other peoples’ feelings? Shame on them.

    My mother died in a highly regarded Catholic hospital in San Diego after a 3-1/2 year long battle with cancer. We had taken her there that morning on her insistence. They told us we would have to leave while they got her settled, but we should come back that evening. My dad, my two youngest sisters (15 and 16), and I returned that evening after dinner, discussing our visiting schedule as we rode the elevator up to Mom’s floor, only to walk in and find her dead. I ran to the nurses’ station and said, “The patient in Room 207 isn’t breathing.” Their response was to shush me, tell me she’d been fine ten minutes earlier (bullshit), send in the crash cart team, and tell us to wait in the hall. When they finally decided she really was dead, they made us wait, asking if we wanted to see a priest. We weren’t Catholic — Mercy was just the hospital Mom’s doctor sent her to. Dad told everyone who asked about a priest that he wanted a doctor to come and declare her dead so we could move on to the next step. We waited for hours. And no one ever expressed anything approaching sympathy.

    25 years later, Dad was dying of cancer — much more quickly than it had taken Mom. He didn’t want hospice because he didn’t want strangers in the house. He didn’t want to be in the hospital. Three of the five daughters (the same three of us who had walked in on our dead mother) arranged our work schedules and lives to make sure one of us would always be there. We were there when he died, holding him through the very ugly and frightening process of a man who doesn’t know how to let go of being alive.

    How does anyone know how to die? We three were grateful he didn’t have to go through that alone.

    When the cremation company representatives arrived, they were respectful, sensitive, and sympathetic. The medical profession should go through the same training those minimum wage employees took just to go pick up dead bodies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Her story, and yours are terrible, terrible things that should never have occurred. I hear the stories, too, but I have never been witness to anything so awful. In medical school, doing a critical care rotation, I watched my attending physician, my teacher, show such care even when he was so physically exhausted he could barely stand. He taught me how to give that to others. Death is different for everyone but love and caring and respect should be universal. Have faith. There is humanity still to be found in medicine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your kind and understanding response. I’ll take your word that there is humanity still to be found in medicine, but until it becomes a priority, a job requirement, I’ll avoid any further personal contact with the profession.


  7. Well said and well done for blogging this. One of my husband’s friends died just recently, leaving behind a 14 year old son and a grieving wife. It was quite a shock (even though he had been seriously ill.) He was only in his fifties. Life is brutal at times. My husband has had two such losses recently it does make you pause and reflect about life.

    Liked by 1 person

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