When a Young Person Dies for No Reason

Persephone (oil on unstretched canvas) by jparadisi

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”
-Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, you are wrong, poetic, but wrong all the same. I’ve bitched a lot recently about the cold rains killing the spring here in Oregon. It sucks, but in no way compares to the death of a young person. I left pediatric intensive care for oncology nursing almost ten years ago, after treatment for cancer. The outpatient oncology unit’s hours accommodate my art and writing careers while my experience as a patient adds an extra dimension to my practice that I share with others. I also believed that nursing adults, even ones with cancer, would be less harrowing than watching parents and children suffer heartbreak in the pediatric intensive care unit. It is not. It feels the same.

I want to tell you why I am writing this, but not now. Until I process the story and gain some distance and perspective, this is the best I can do. I would like to write a post about something else, but at the moment, I can’t think about anything else. I suspect every nurse has come home from a shift feeling this way.

Today, the sun is shining in Portland, Oregon. And a young person is dying for no reason.


  1. Having been in the nightmare of cancer treatment, the sadness of stories like this have more impact on me. Life is so fragile and seemingly unfair at times. When someone doesn’t make it, someone who has a life ahead of them, or someone who has a family they’re trying to raise, or someone that’s so precious to the world, the sadness is also drenched in guilt and regret. Why did I make it while others, many so more deserving, don’t? (People throw around the terms like “survivors guilt” like it’s gonna make everything easier. It doesn’t.)
    I have often thought about how people like you and Kate, so up close to death, deal with it day after day after day. How do you do it? I don’t think I’d be strong enough or brave enough.


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