• 30 March 2017
  • 3 min read

Managing death - a personal perspective as a nurse and daughter

  • Ruth Underdown
    Adult Nurse

Rio Ferdinand has brought the subject of loss to the fore this week. A nurse and daughter who lost her own mother at a young age gives her perspective on grief and death.

The documentary on BBC1 on Tuesday 28th of March, ‘Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad’ was one that resonated strongly with me both as a nurse and as someone who lost their own mother at a young age due to breast cancer.

Rio has had a chequered history with the media both during and after his international footballing career, but this programme was not about that.

This was about a man, a father, struggling to come to terms with the loss of his wife and the mother of his children; a relationship that can only be fully shared by the two people responsible for the emotional wellbeing of these little humans.

And he should be applauded for being open about it as a subject, perhaps opening doors for others who have felt that they cannot speak about their own experiences.

Indeed, as a society, we don’t know how to talk about death or grief.

Sadly though, Rio is not alone. The statistics are scary. As quoted in the programme, 75 men under the age of 50 are widowed per day.

That is a huge amount of partners and parents lost on a daily basis.

I can remember over 15 years ago, as my own mum was admitted to the hospice, my dad breaking down and saying that this was not how it was supposed to be, he was supposed to go first.

The thought for him of facing the rest of his life alone at the age of 49 was too horrifying for him to bear.

I was 23 at the time and coming to the end of my nursing course. My two sisters were 21 and 16, so all of us out of infancy but still very much in need of the nurturing that only a parent can provide.

After her death, we all went into our own bubbles and managed our grief in the way we each felt was best, but not as a family unit.

My dad was lost without her and used to arrive at my student house on a weekend because he didn’t know what else to do. He would call me and ask advice on how to answer my 16-year-old sister’s request to go to a festival – should he let her go? Was she too young?

It was hard but now 15 years later I can say that actually, despite the grief that took years to deal with, the experience has made me a better nurse because of it.

Death is not a scary subject to me. I don’t shy away from difficult conversations, in a weird way; I actually seek them out and instinctively know when the time is right to have a conversation about end of life.

By drip feeding the subject with a family and a patient, we open the doors to allow them to process the information and give them time to accept and permission to ask about what happens next.

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  • Ruth Underdown
    Adult Nurse

About the author

  • Ruth Underdown
    Adult Nurse

Since qualifying in Adult Nursing in 2002 I’ve worked as a specialist nurse with the NHS, and in the private sector as a general nurse and sessional nurse for a hospital at home team (I’ve been about a bit!).

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