1. Spruit, Jessica L. DNP, RN, CPNP-AC, CPHON, BMT-CN


A nurse's open letter to families who have lost a child.


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This letter, in various forms, has lived on my desktop for over five years. Every time I smile while thinking of a patient, share memories with my colleagues, or see a grieving family, I am reminded that you need to know this. Thoughts of your loved one have motivated this letter. For some of you, we knew you as if we were your extended family. Together we celebrated holidays and watched your child grow up, even if it was in the hospital. I would like you to know that even if they didn't go to school, form networks of playmates, or have friends over at your home, your loved ones live on in us, too. You are never alone as you miss these children, as you laugh recalling moments with them. Don't worry that the memory of them is fading-their presence is strong and lives even beyond you and your love for them. We remember them, too.

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new window Illustration by Barbara Hranilovich.

Thank you for sharing them with us. I'm smiling as tears well up in my eyes just typing this to you. Thank you. I hope you take comfort knowing that we too remember them. We remember all of you[horizontal ellipsis] you are all a part of us. You might be surprised to know how often you come to our minds and at what special occasions you are remembered.


We celebrated the wedding of our charge nurse last month. While celebrating the best day of her life, a group of us sat together and told stories about your daughter. I had never heard the story shared by a couple of her favorite night nurses. It was as if it had just happened-I imagined her expressions and enthusiasm, especially when she was talking about barbecues. We reflected on how funny and charismatic and wise your daughter was. As the life of a married couple started, memories of your child were vivid and uproarious to those of us who also grew to know and love her.


The NP that cared for your family and I often run together. We have spent countless brisk winter mornings talking about your grandson. The sun shines bright in our eyes as we admiringly recall his love for the outdoors and the igloo he built with his grandfather. His desire to live a full life despite his tumor inspires our steps. We will always remember how proud you are of him.


While grocery shopping, I saw a bag of sour cream and onion chips. I could never forget how much your little sister loved those chips! She would come in to her clinic appointment with a bag as big as she was, shoulder deep in the foil wrapping as she grasped another chip. It is small and simple, but those chips will always remind me of her; you are never alone as you recall her life.


Sadly, we attended the funeral of another patient this winter. We drove two hours home on the expressway, sharing memories of the child who was being mourned. We remembered your child, too. The physician, coordinator, and nurses you knew in the last journey of that story all shared memories of your child during our ride home. We remember how strong and brave these children were. We will never forget how much you love them.


It's not just milestones, anniversaries, or ceremonies designed to help us remember your children that prompt this. We remember them because they became a part of us. We tell stories about events that we weren't even present for because they have been told so many times by colleagues. We talk about them because there is joy in our hearts when we recall them. The spirit they possessed and courage we witnessed-we will never forget those things.


We will also always remember that they were kids-kids who liked to play, challenge us, interpret the world, and outwit their caregivers. You all became a part of us. You taught us unconditional love, resilience, and coping. We watched tears illuminated by the lights of pumps and monitors stream down your cheeks in the darkness of HEPA-filtered hospital rooms, only to be replaced by stoic smiles and looks of fierce determination as the sun rose. The lessons you taught made impressions far beyond anything our textbooks could have described. Please don't ever think that we "do this all the time" or that it is "just part of our job." Please don't fear that you are the only ones who still remember and miss your children. Their memory lives within each of us as well.


Thank you for sharing your child and family with us. We promise to take gentle care of the memories as we stand beside new families walking in similar shoes.