The Hardest Part of Nursing: Saying Goodbye…Letting Go of Their Hand

Stories - Heart StethoscopeSitting outside right now, there is no wind. Its eerily still. My neighbors are gone, there is no light or sign of life behind me in the window like there usually is…..the tears are rolling down my face in an endless stream as I remember……memory upon memory upon memory in rapid succession……and the capeze windchimes burst to life for no reason—–there is—no—breeze. They come to life louder than they ever have even in the monsoony winds. Tossed back and forth….in a circle…..they tinkle cheerfully…..and I’m left to wonder….

If you are hearing my heart it means the sun has set, and your heart is now high up there, somewhere in heaven. But, I knew it was coming…..Frank had to have a partner to shoot the breeze with and he held out as long as he could…..and we all know hes gotta have all the comforts of home, including his best guy friend, his partner in crime, and road partner.

There is so much I want to say but what do you say to a spirit who was so richly celebrated every second of his life. How do you honor a heart so huge? What words can truly capture who you were, and are, to everyone. There is no easy to answer to that, because, of course… were something different to every life you touched….and yet the same to all of us too. I guess, I will focus on what you taught me as a nurse, and as a human being.

It all started that one afternoon I walked into your room way up in the corner of the unit. You were in bed, and you wanted to nap. I decided I had enough of you sleeping so I took a deep breath and grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and just marched right in and told you “how it was going to be.” Not even Frankie Frank gave me the look you gave me in that moment…..a cross between “and YOU are WHO?” and “YOU are telling ME WHAT TO DO?”

I took a chance….and it was the first lesson you taught me as a nurse. Because I was terrified of what you were going to say, or that you were going to kick me out of your room, or that youd never want me as your nurse again. My heart was racing, and it nearly pounded out of my chest in those few moments the air between us grew thick with tension and our eyes met. My arms were crossed, I was holding my position. Your jaw was set, and your facial expression was clearly stunned.

And then came your daughter. I know if it weren’t for her, I would have never been welcomed back into that room….but she rallied everyone together and supported my vision for helping you to get stronger, and better, as fast as possible. Because….we had lost enough time, your family had lost enough time with you….and it was time for the next step in your journey with them. It would never begin if you ended it in bed. So she persisted, and she supported everything, all the hard work, my determined ways……and she pushed as hard as I did. Probably harder. My chance paid off……but like Frankie Frank, there had to be some incentives……

I want so badly to pack in all the memories I have of you…..but, this is where you taught me the heart of being a REAL nurse. Where you showed me nursing doesn’t just begin and end with the medications and the VAD readings, and the vital signs. This is where I had to really apply every single thing I learned in nursing school and truly carry out nursing as both an ART AND A SCIENCE. I had to give of myself in some way. It couldnt just be about the mechanics…the everyday routine.

I had to figure out what made you—YOU. The little things that would make you happy to get out of bed every day. Whether it was the special soaps and lotions I brought in from Bath and Body Works, the massages, having your family bring in all your special stuff from home, or the hot towels on your head first thing in the morning…you helped me to realize what it meant to really give patient centered care that was all about the person and not a body laying in a bed. In order to help get you better I had to really give from my own heart.

I had to be creative. I had to be patient. I had to be flexible. I had to know when to push, and when to hold back….we had our own little dance you and I…..and somehow, ever so slowly, it worked……and I cant tell you how insanely proud I was to see you get stronger and more independent to the point you’d surprise me now and then at the salon when I got my nails done. Im even prouder that, like Frank, I was able to share a big piece of my own heart with you—my daughter Anaya.

These days nursing is tough. You have to make the time to see the victories…..and there is just so much for nurses to do in 12 hours…..Many of the nurses used to get upset with me because I did all this stuff with you, spent “too much time” in your room…. and they told me it made their jobs harder. That there was too much time involved in keeping you maintained in this routine we had with all the little things…..but I saw every single second of it as sensationally serendipitous because I was watching this grandfather, father, and husband get his legs underneath him again….a second wind in life, another chance to do anything and everything he wanted to. And, after all, that is what we are there to do as nurses.

As a nurse I will never stop believing you do what it takes to achieve that second chance. And I think we all helped you do it. You taught me that. To be part of that journey has been one of my greatest accomplishments, joys, and gifts I have received as a nurse…..our time together, with all its ups and downs…..good days and bad days…..gains and setbacks……will not soon be forgotten. Because from that point on, you and Frank set the bar for the kind of nurse I knew I had to be. The kind of nurse I wanted to be for every patient—every time.

In touching my heart the way you did, you shaped me into the kind of nurse that touched the hearts of others. You taught me what mattered. What was important as a nurse. That taking time to do things right, to really “be” present with your patients… what does the healing…not rushing in and out of a room expecting you would somehow perform this huge miracle on your own.

For a time, you and me were a team. And in that time, I was the proudest I have been not just as a nurse….but as a human being.

I miss you already.  The day that Frank passed on the world felt different to me……and it feels that way now right this second.


I know….where you and Frankie Frank sit, you would likely agree that you lived every single day to the fullest….and loved even greater. What better gift could God have given all of us—- your family…and everyone you touched with that flashy smile—than the beautiful opportunity to have been a witness to, and a part of, one of HIS biggest miracles.

For that, my friend, I can never thank you enough.

Amanda Trujillo is the owner of the Nurse blog Nurse Interrupted

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