Hospice nurse delivers warmth and light

Vancouver | August 3, 2018
comforting hands
Hospice nurse provides comfort, care and compassion to patients and families going through an end-of-life journey.

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” - Haruki Murakami

As a hospice nurse, this is something Julie Higgins, RN, understands very well.

For more than a quarter of a century, she has provided comfort, support and care to patients who are taking the final steps of their earthly journey.

Julie believes she was destined to follow this career path. At a relatively young age she lost several family members, including her mother to cancer. These difficult experiences left a meaningful imprint on her.

“Dying is part of life, but it’s something many people are uncomfortable with,” she said. “I have always been drawn to this type of work; it’s been a calling for me. It’s hard, but I can’t imagine doing any other kind of nursing.”

For Julie, being a hospice nurse is more than a job. It’s an expression of her character.

As a family member of one of Julie’s patients, this is something Michelle Kemp understands very well.

Julie was there to care for her loved one, Candy Parker, when she arrived at the PeaceHealth's Ray Hickey Hospice House in Vancouver, Washington on a Sunday afternoon in June. Candy’s health had been deteriorating since developing a serious infection in her lungs.

With small acts of compassion, as well as deeply meaningful gestures, Julie made sure the needs of Candy and her family were always taken care of.

She soothed Candy by placing a cool cloth on her neck.

She sat next to Michelle and gently held her hand.

She brought Candy’s cousin, Susan, a heated blanket when she appeared chilly.

She made sure Candy’s son, Casey, was fed, when his concern for his mother made him forget he hadn’t eaten.

“She didn’t have to do any of that,” Michelle said. “I didn’t feel that it was out of courtesy, or because it was what she was getting paid to do. She did it because she is meant to do that work. She has a warmth and a light to her that I have never seen before.”

Candy’s family had been by her side throughout that week. When they headed home on Friday, Julie assured them she would be there with Candy.

“We left there that day with a warm feeling, like there weren’t any better hands that we could have left Candy in,” Michelle said. “That night she passed away peacefully and calmly.”

“Julie truly has a gift. Thinking about it gives me goosebumps to this day,” Michelle continued. “I hope she understands how special she is to us.”

For Julie, being a hospice nurse means playing a special role in her patients’ lives and making their final journey a little easier.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to be with somebody when they are in this stage, care for them and share in their pain,” she said. “This job gives me so much.”