(This blog might be tough to read if you have suffered the loss of a young person.)
For any nurse our first death of a patient, whether we took care of the patient intensely or walked into a code situation, takes residence easily in our memories. At an instant, we can recall where we were, what we were doing and even details like the smell surrounding the experience. For me, not only do I remember my first death vividly, but my first death of a child was traumatizing and left me with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
After this little one’s passing, I began not sleeping well. I dreamed about the bruises I saw on the little boy’s body. I judged everyone who yelled at their child at Target. It was becoming unhealthy quickly. I resisted going back to work. If I had been a drinker, I would have drowned my feelings with something liquid.
Realizing my career couldn’t survive another experience like the one I went through I began to work through my experience. I wanted and needed to continue to care for my patients and their families without being void of feelings and distrust. I needed to sleep without ugly dreams. During the next few months I developed ways to handle my grief. Over the years I have perfected my process. Every death hit me differently, but I have created routines around loss to help my grief. One of those routines is involving music.
Early in my career, I would turn to music on my drive home after loosing a patient. I would hear a song on the radio or on my playlist with a phrase or melody which would minister to me. I began to play that song over and over. I realized after a while something in my gut released. I would cry and be sad until I felt this sensation release within me. Some losses take longer than other, but no matter what, I keep the song playing.
The night before Father’s Day about 9 years ago I took care of a beautiful girl while her family said goodbye. In the midst of the loss her family would be giving the most precious gift to several other people. As heartbreaking as her story was, her family seemed to hold onto this hope. After caring for everyone involved, I walked her parents out of the unit and was allowed to go home. While I headed home I flipped on the radio. Miranda Lambert’s The House that Built Me came on. I sang my heart out. Because it was on my playlist, I sang it over and over until it sank in. It became for me her song, a little piece of her story etched into mine.
Music brings us together. Music helps us grieve and helps us celebrate. It’s the gift of connection and of unity. It’s the fight song of our favorite team. It’s the hymn which raises our spirits. It is the song we walk down the aisle to. It’s the song which takes us back to our childhood or away from the hard things in our lives. Music can bend our hearts towards each other when words break us apart. (Brené Brown talks about this connection in her book Braving the Wilderness. I highly recommend it!)
I flip my music to Miranda again. She is singing and tears are streaming down my face. The song reminds me of the patient’s room, her family, the experience and what I learned through it all. The song reminds me to pause and grieve the losses in my own story. It brings healing in the midst of life’s pain. It helps me settle down, refocus and gather my strength to push forward.
This is resiliency. Being brave enough to be moved deeply, process it and get back up to try again. It’s experiencing belonging even when it hurts and letting our stories be imprinted by others. It is playing the song over and over until our hearts are ready to move on. Maybe you need to be reminded of a song which helped you get back up and try again. Find it and enjoy it today!