01.01 Handling Death and Dying

Join NURSING.com to watch the full lesson now.

Included In This Lesson



Dealing with death and dying is something every nurse does differently. We do not share the same beliefs and grieving process. In nursing, handling death and dying can be an emotional roller coaster if you work in an acute care setting.

Nursing Points


  1. Death and Dying
    1. Death is inevitable
    2. Textbooks don’t prepare you
    3. Everyone deals with death differently
      1. Different beliefs and grieving process
    4. Emotional rollercoaster in an acute care setting
  2. Handling Death and Dying
    1. Advice from a nurse
      1. Unless you work in hospice
        1. Dealing with death sucks
      2. Take a moment for yourself
      3. Talk to chaplain or coworkers
      4. Keep your emotions controlled
      5. You may have other patients that need to see a happy nurse
      6. Show respect for the death
      7. Comforting family may be challenging for some
      8. Figure out what works for you to cope with death


Hey guys. So in this short lesson, we’re going to talk about handling death and dying. So just a little disclaimer. This is not my favorite subject. I don’t like it. I don’t like dealing with it. Basically nursing schools give you all the proper information about it. I’m going to give you a nurse’s perspective about it because it sucks. So with that being said, let’s talk about it. So like you have learned in nursing school, death and dying is inevitable. It’s going to happen. There’s nothing we can do about it, everybody dies. I don’t think you’ve ever met anybody that’s been alive for an indefinite amount of time, we will all dye, it’s going to happen. And because we work in healthcare, because we take care for people that are sick, death happens. Textbooks don’t prepare you on how to handle it. We all grieve differently, we all have different beliefs and we all have a different grieving process.

So however you grieve, whatever your beliefs are, they are different from mine. So that can affect us on how we handle death and dying. This one, I do agree with the textbooks. If you know your own personal beliefs on death and dying, then it kind of helps you deal with it a little easier. However, unfortunately, it can be an emotional roller coaster to deal with death and dying. Especially if you don’t work in that type of environment like a hospice facility. If you don’t work with that every single day and you have to face death, then it can be a little bit overwhelming. So let’s go a little further into this. So here are a nurse’s perspective or nurse’s advice, on how to handle death and dying. Number one, yes, it’s sucks when our patients die. And this affects nurses more that are not in hospice.

Okay. So if you are in an acute care facility, if you are in an ICU, if you are in a med surge floor, or a telemetry floor, wherever you are, it sucks. Sometimes when they pass they may be a DNR and they pass peacefully and you give them some morphine and they go. But usually, it doesn’t happen that way the majority of the time. Especially when you have somebody who’s just going bad, they code and then they die. So it sucks. But my advice, take a moment for yourself after the death of a patient. Again, most of the time when it’s a code and they die, take a minute. This is why I say it can be an emotional roller.

You usually may have about three to four other patients and then you have one that just codes and dies. Guess what? These three to four other patients don’t know anything about it. You can’t tell them cause you can’t violate HIPAA. When you go in the room, they have to see a happy nurse. They don’t want to see a nurse that is crying because they just lost a patient. They don’t want to hear that. This is why as nurses, you’ve got to learn to keep your emotions under control because of other patients that you may have. This is what makes it so hard. This is why sometimes it seems like we can become a little cold or insensitive to death because we have to learn how to keep our emotions under control. Now, some of y’all may disagree with me and that is okay but this is why chaplain is available for us.

Talk to other coworkers, talk about it so that you are able to express your feelings but from my experience, if I have a nurse who was patient just coded and she has three to four other patients, you cannot walk in that other room crying because your one patient just coded. You can’t. You can’t do that. You’ve got to learn how to keep yourself together when you take care of the rest of your patients. Quick story, I had a patient code one night. The body was still in the room. They had not come to pick them up and the ER was trying to send me another patient and I had to stop because it was so overwhelming. I had to just tell the ER, I, I need a minute and you are going to have to wait for me.

You’ve got to stand up for yourself. And if you need to take a minute, take a moment, It is okay. So a little bit more advice. Show respect for the death. I know that sometimes we can get overwhelmed and sometimes you’ll be in a code and some people are laughing and cutting up. Well, you know what? You gotta be respectful especially to the family. And again, this is usually in a code situation or even if it’s not a code situation, be respectful to the patient. It’s their last moments of life. Be respectful if you have to, provide some type of comfort to the family. Go ahead and do that. This is personally one of the hardest things for me to do because when I see a mother, there are no words to express the sorrow of a mother that just lost her child. Or a daughter who is losing their mom or brother or sister or husband who just lost their wife of 20 something years. How do you make them, okay, what do you say? What words do you say? All I can tell you is if they need you to pray with them at that moment, pray with them. If they need you to hold a hand, hold a hand. It’s hard. And the good thing about some hospitals is if they have a chaplain available, call chaplain, get them involved to come consult with family. Because for me personally, it’s hard when I have patient’s families crying, I’m not a consoling person and you know, it just makes it a little difficult, especially when they’re going through the death themselves for their family member. And my last bit of advice is to figure out what works for you to cope with the death.

If you just had a patient in that coded and you need a minute, take a moment. If you’ve got to go in the bathroom and lock the door and cry for just a couple of minutes, do that. If you got to go meditate if you have to go run around if you’ve got to go talk to somebody else, if you, when you leave work, if you need a drink, fine, but when you leave work! find what works for you. Because if you don’t, if you hold all that in, it’s not going to make you a productive nurse. If you’re going to carry it with you, you’re going to carry it with you through your next patient that codes or through your next patient that has passed. Make sure that you figure out what works for you and how to cope with the death. Talk to other people. You’re not the only nurse that’s gone through this. Talk to other nurses or chaplain. Again, whatever it is you got to do, pray, whatever. Because unfortunately this happens often and you have got to learn what works for you to be able to cope with a death of a patient.

So just to recap on the short little lesson, death and dying is inevitable, having a patient that dies is going to happen. Unless it’s a DNR and a peaceful death, you know, for the most part it’s not fun having to deal with it. And as nurses, you have to find out what works for you on how to cope with the patient that’s died and with the family. That is my best piece of advice to y’all is find coping mechanisms. Again, I’m going to recap really quickly. If you got to pray and you got to just meditate. If you got to go work out, if you have to just talk to somebody or if you just need a moment, whatever it is that you have to do, do that for yourself before you move on to provide care for somebody else.

So I hope this little lesson has helped y’all just a little bit with some little tips on handling death and dying. You know, it’ll happen. You guys will get there. Your first patient will die. And I’ve been a nurse for 15 years, and there isn’t a time that a patient doesn’t die, that it still doesn’t affect me. I’m human and it does affect me sometimes. But you gotta figure out how to cope with it so that you can move on. So I hope that again, this has helped you guys and make sure that you guys go out and be your best selves today And anytime that you are faced with any type of adversity or a difficult situation in your nursing careers, and as always, happy nursing, you guys.