Nurses and the crying dilemma

"For some reason, I felt the need to apologize for my tears as I’m still not sure if doctors are allowed to cry."

This quote jumped out at me from Death is part of medicine. I will never get used to it. (I AM used to it, but that's not what this is about.)

This crying thing has been an ongoing topic in my brain since I started nursing school clinicals. Before I was a nurse, I just didn't cry unless I was in physical pain or really mad. Almost always the "really mad" one. Then I found myself crying in the car after clinicals. That wasn't even so bad, but then I discovered that I'm a sympathetic crier.

In case you're not familiar with this, I mean that even if I'm not personally distressed by something awful that's happened, but someone else is and is crying about it, my eyes start leaking. This was a horrifying discovery to me. The nurse can't be crying! I thought. I berated myself about it and dreaded the next sobbing family member.

As often happens in nursing, a mentor appeared when I needed her and gave me sound advice: she said, "don't worry about this. It isn't about you. No one is thinking about what you're doing or thinking." What? But yes. It's true.

So I moved on from that and no longer care when I cry with people.

But then I became a hospice nurse and found that I actually do cry all on my own on occasion. I get attached to some of my patients. If you see someone several times a week for months at a time, it's SAD when they die. I don't cry at every death; in fact, it should probably be upsetting to me how casually I've adapted to being around so much death. But some get to me. This discovery bothered me too.

It's a little silly, because crying over a corpse is not a discoverable offense. I'm pretty sure the corpse is not appalled at my lack of professional detachment. But I feel like I somehow "should" be able to switch my emotions on and off at my convenience. It doesn't work that way.

Again someone popped up when I needed her, a nurse at a facility I spend a lot of time in. She busted me crying at a bedside, gave me a hug, and said, "it's hard for us too, isn't it?" She was crying. This normalized the whole thing for me.

So I don't apologize or beat myself up anymore for crying. Either no one is paying any attention because the situation is not about me anyway, or I figure I have a right to feel sad when people I care about die. I'm not superwoman. And no one expects me to be, except me.