My Facebook page is inundated with nursing posts. It makes sense- I've been doing this long enough that the majority of my friends seem to be nurses, and it also seems nurses love to talk about being nurses. I... don't? Except for here? Which, well, I guess I still don't these days. Some of this stuff makes me laugh. Occasionally I run across something that warms my icy heart. Mostly these things make me roll my eyes. Mostly because they come in the form of clickbait garbage; most recently, it's "five things nurses want you to know but can never tell." Number one on the list? We cry for you.
I'm sorry. That's just bullshit.
Not because I don't cry for you. But because it isn't, and shouldn't be, a secret.
Obviously, you should still have control of your faculties. I save my snotty nose crying for the house, because raccoon mascara eyes is not a cute look for your nurse. Obviously, not everyone is a crier. Not everyone is emotionally demonstrative. And that's okay. It doesn't make you less compassionate; people just handle their feelings differently. I cry. And I won't hide it.
Personal loss changes your attitude about things so much. Greif is a lot of times a weird, out of body experience; it's so isolating that it almost feels like you're not even there anymore. I remember driving to both my grandparent's funerals and watching people on the street, going about their lives. Feeling how weird it was that my entire world was caving in, and everyone else was just buying groceries and going out to eat. It's not that you expect the world to stop, but you just feel so small and so utterly alone in your pain. I'm doing much better than I was a while back, but hard losses bore a hole in your heart. You're hardened yet softened, and you see your own pain in other people's. And sometimes that's what other people need.
I let the tears go with a family recently. They were incredible people. And their family member, by all accounts, was an incredible person. Sadly, cancer cares about none of these things, and sometimes, it moves fast, overnight; even when you're expecting it, you're not expecting it. It was awful, but serendipitous. They had just had "the talk" a few days before- the "how far are we going to take this?" talk- she wasn't medically experienced, but she did manage to tell them " I don't want any tubes coming out of me."
They all came together, and they all respected her wishes.
Sadly, even when everyone is on the same page, death doesn't happen like it does in the movies. People don't peacefully fall asleep never to wake again. In fact, sometimes the person you love most breathes like a fish out of water for hours. It's horrifying. Why would we pretend it isn't? Why pretend our hearts aren't breaking if they are? I went back to the death of my own beloved and all the things I wish someone could or would have done. I did just those things, and it hurt- some for me, but mostly for them. I did everything I could, but I did it with tears in my eyes. I didn't have anything else.
In medicine, we're so guilty of trying to fix everything. I've felt so powerless and guilty in bad situations sometimes knowing that nothing I did was going to make things better, and I couldn't take the pain away. Maybe it's not about that though. We can't change what happens, but we can make people feel less alone. That the ripples of their grief don't stop with them, and that their pain is real.
A few months after this happened, a coworker reached out and told me she was a friend of this family. That this woman's son had told her that among the pain, he was grateful for everything, but didn't know how to express it. She was getting choked up talking about it, as was I. And as many tears as I continued to shed the rest of that day, that I continue to shed now, I'm so grateful to have been a part of this. Not because I changed anything, but because I was able to be there, and the people who mattered knew that someone cared. Not because I was able to buffer any of the pain, but that I could appease some of the loneliness. Because I will always remember them, and they will remember me, and we'll be bound together in out pain in a way I can't quite describe.
It's not the tears that matter, really. It's letting the humanity spill out of you, even when it hurts so much more than holding back. Not because it's good for you, but because it helps someone else. And sometimes, that's the least you can do.