Caring for terminal patients and their families isn’t an easy job. Hospice nurses are experts, of course, but nurses who are not skilled in hospice or palliative care may feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with managing a patient who is dying. For those who find themselves caring for the terminally ill, RN and author Linda Norlander, wrote a book to help–To Comfort Always: A Nurse’s Guide to End-of-Life Care.

In an interview with this year, Norlander, a Home Care and Hospice Manager for the Group Health Cooperative in Tacoma, Washington, talked about the problem she was trying to address in her book. She states, “Death may be a part of life, but nurses in many settings may not feel comfortable caring for terminal patients and their families.” Her goal was to write a book that could help nurses find the information they need to overcome their fears, manage symptoms, and understand that not everything is fixable.

When she was a new home care nurse, Norlander remembered her feeling of helplessness when caring for an elderly woman with terminal liver cancer. She struggled to make her comfortable, to control her pain, and to relieve her symptoms. “I didn’t know the crucial role that nursing could have played in helping Margaret die peacefully and comfortably,” she recalls.

As a hospice professional, Norlander has gained years of insight and advice to share. The book offers tools and resources that can help nurses “know what they don’t know.” The book is meant to help nurses unfamiliar with hospice not only care for terminal patients and their families but also to deal with the death of a loved one in their own families.

Many hospice programs are using Norlander’s book for educational and orientation programs. Traditional textbooks don’t have much content directed toward end-of-life care.

To Comfort Always is divided by the three roles nurses take when caring for terminal patients:

  • Clinician
  • Advocate
  • Guide

For each role, Norlander defines the process, discusses strategies, and offers tips for pain and symptom management. She also includes a section on the physiological changes in the final moments of life and tips for meeting the needs of surviving family members. Norlander also addresses the need for nurses to care for themselves while facing the emotional challenges of this type of care.

In a review of the book that appeared in the Critical Care Nurse journal, Benny Bolin, RN, described To Comfort Always as “a good resource to the nurse working with patients at the end of life.”

Linda Norlander has written two other books–Being Present: A Nurse’s Resource for End of Life Communications (co-authored with Marjorie Schaffer) and Choices at the End of Life: Finding Out What Your Parents Want Before It’s Too Late, (co-authored with Kerstin McSteen).