RACHEL BELLE

Local hospice nurse says death is not what you see in the movies

Sep 2, 2022, 5:45 AM
hospice nurse...
(Photo by Bret Kavanaugh/Unsplash)
(Photo by Bret Kavanaugh/Unsplash)

In our culture, death can be a taboo topic. For those who haven’t witnessed it up close, the only reference might be seeing death on TV or in movies.

“I would love some kind of realness about death for people,” said Katie Bracken, a hospice nurse from University Place.

“It’s ugly, it sounds horrible,” said Bracken. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the death rattle. That’s terrifying for family members. Sorry to be so graphic and morbid. It can be peaceful. That’s why hospice is important. We come in, we teach the family how to recognize early symptoms and administer medication to help manage that so it’s not as ugly and terrifying. It’s a process and it can be not pretty and not as easy as just closing your eyes and going to sleep.”

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She thinks the best thing you can do is prepare yourself for a loved one’s death, or your own.

“Do research,” said Bracken. “There are so many great books. I have one that we give out called Gone From My Sight. It’s very insightful, it’s really comforting, it’s written by a nurse. It gets specific about what you can expect one to three months prior to them passing, what you’ll notice a few weeks before they die, signs and symptoms that they’re uncomfortable when your loved one is no longer able to communicate pain or anxiety.”

Bracken came to hospice late in her nursing career, right at the start of the pandemic.

“I was laid off because elective surgeries were canceled,” Bracken said. “It was the only job I could get. I never thought I’d do hospice. I just went through a horrible divorce last year, I’m living on my own for the first time at 52 years old. My life has changed and hospice has changed how I look at it. When I see people die, they always say they wish they would have had more fun doing the things they care about, more time with their family. That has changed me.

“The only thing I care about now is spending time with loved ones, doing the things that make me feel good about who I am. I mean, yeah, I’d probably like a boyfriend, but I really have learned to be happy with who I am and what makes me happy,” Bracken continued. “Hospice has helped me with that. On the elevator at my apartment complex, I ask everyone that comes on, they probably regret seeing me, ‘What’s bringing you joy today?’ I just want people to be joyful and be in the moment and live their life.”

Bracken was scared to be a hospice nurse, but she quickly learned that it was what she was meant to do all along.

“I go into people’s homes and the family is freaking out,” said Bracken. “They’re stressed, they’re scared, they don’t know what’s going to happen. I go in there, I’m quiet, I’m calm, and I sit there letting them say everything they’re going to say and then I speak calmly. I sit with them, I hold their hand. They just need support and someone sitting there saying, ‘Hey, you’re not alone anymore. We got you. We’re going to help you, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know to do this and it’s going to be okay.”

She says everyone can learn to live a better life, if they look at life and death like a hospice nurse does.

“I don’t think it’s unhealthy to think about death,” said Bracken. “I think we have to accept that it is going to happen to all of us at some time and use that to live our lives better on a daily basis and not be afraid to talk about it.”

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal.” Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

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Local hospice nurse says death is not what you see in the movies