New Year’s is a time to reflect on all the events that have shaped our lives, for better or worse in the last 365 days. We lay the past to rest, and look forward to a better future. I had my down points, but I can honestly say that 2015 was the best year of my life so far.
In 2015, I earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing which I had been working towards for ten years, was awarded the Bonderman Fellowship, and traveled to six states, and five countries.
It all pales in comparison to the most important thing that happened in 2015. This year I finally figured out how I really want to live my life, and made steps towards achieving it. I focused more on how I spend my time than how I spend my money.
After graduating, most nurses seek an acute care position. I worked as a nurse outside the hospital for five years before securing a job on an orthopedic and neurosurgery floor. I always thought of myself as less of a nurse working out in the community, because of messages that had been fed to me. I thought the only way to be successful was to work in a hospital, but I was wrong.
I kept thinking life would be easy once I finally got that RN position in a hospital, and a bachelor’s degree. I thought that everything would fall into place. Once I got there, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t any happier than I was as an LPN. In fact, I was much less happy than when I worked in home health.
It’s not that hospitals are horrible places, they provide many vital services to the community. The problem is that I followed someone else’s path instead of my own. I ignored my heart, and listened only to my head. A hospital job would provide me with a stable, financially secure life. Despite this, it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my time.
Hospitals do a good job of saving lives, but they often fair poorly when it comes to providing a peaceful end to those lives that cannot be saved. These were the people, I found out, that I had the most interest in caring for.
The last thing I want to do is sound like a motivational speaker or a self-help book, because I think these messages are often flawed. They tell us we can do anything we set our minds to, but the truth is not everyone can. I need to balance being positive with being humble, empathetic, and genuine. It is about making the most of what we have, but the amount and quality of time we have is completely unequal.
Any of us could die at almost any moment, and so I try to live as though I might die soon. The difference is that as a healthy twenty eight year old, my death in the near future is only possible, not probable. For those with a terminal illness, the opposite is true. I can’t compare my experience living with the possibility of death, with those living with the probability of death.
Throughout this journey I have focused on the fact that death is a naturally occuring phenomenon that happens to us all at a certain point. I’ve spent a large portion of my career working in geriatrics, and subsequently older adults have a special place in my heart. I need to acknowledge though, that everyone who grows old dies, but not everyone who dies grows old.
Death of a young person is not the same as that of an old person. The physical, psychosocial, and emotional needs are different. So too is the grief of the patient and the family. I will never be able to fully understand the hurt they experience, unless it happens to me.
Part of being a hospice nurse, for patients of any age, is knowing that you can only ease some of the sorrow, not take it away. I can provide tools to patients and families to make it better, but I know that it will still be painful.
I like that hospice focuses on making the best with what time we have left, but I know it’s not always easy to do this when you are sick, in pain, and in fear. With this quest to find greater meaning at the end of life, I hope not to glorify death, but to improve the experience of an inevitable outcome. I recognize that as a nurse, I am not the most important person in that patient’s life, and there may be times that no matter how hard I try, I cannot help.
I am looking forward to an exciting future ahead, while remembering those who won’t have the chance. Right now, I can only take advantage of the time I have, hoping it will help me grow into a better person, and a better nurse. By seeing the world through the eyes of others all around the world, I hope to have a new view on life this year. With gratitude and love, wishing for bright new beginnings, and peaceful endings in 2016.