Hospice Nurse Takes to TikTok to Talk Openly About Death
A Southern California hospice nurse is sharing facts about death and dying on social media — and tens of thousands of people are listening.
“Educating people on what it really looks like to die, what the phases you are most likely going to see, the “abnormal” things that are normal in death and dying, and just broaching that topic, makes people feel better,” says Julie McFadden, aka Hospice Nurse Julie.
McFadden had been working as a nurse in hospice care for five years after more than 10 as an ICU nurse and had been thinking about how to share some of what she now knew about death and dying with the world.
Like a lot of people, she’d found that because of our cultural reluctance to talk about death — or accept it — families weren’t well prepared for the decline of their loved ones.
“I’ve seen people who are accepting and do come to the reality that ‘I’m going to die. Who knows when, but I am.’ And it is so much easier and they enjoy those last few months, weeks, days. Acceptance is the answer.”
Julie considered creating a podcast or a blog, but on a family visit, she discovered TikTok, thanks to a tween niece, and decided that was a quick and easy platform to get her message across. She added Instagram, too. She’s found a whole community of death doulas and hospice nurses she’s connected with on the platforms, all with a common goal of opening conversations about death.
In just a few weeks, McFadden quickly gained more than tens of thousands of followers and many times as many likes. Her most popular topics include: why patients should not receive intravenous fluids at life’s end, how hearing is the last sense to leave us and how most “see” people they’ve lost in dreams and visions shortly before they die. She says her experience as a hospice nurse made her personally less fearful of death.
“If you just let nature take its course, it’s really peaceful and natural, and that’s why I don’t fear death anymore, because I see those things.”
McFadden says she loves her hospice care work now because as an ICU nurse she saw so much suffering. “The end result was the same, which was they die, but it was way more drawn out. For the most part, doctors and nurses, including myself, were not good at having open conversations about what was really happening. No one wanted to broach the topic of ‘Hey, is this person really going to make it out of here and if they do, what’s their quality of life going to look like?’ There’s a time and a place for the ICU. We helped a lot of people. (But) I think people would choose going home if they knew the end result was death either way.”
McFadden says working as a hospice nurse has given her new appreciation of the human body’s capacity to take care of us in death. “To watch the body take care of this person and allow them to naturally, peacefully pass, just seeing that time and time again, it was just ‘wow.’ It feels magical, that we even biologically and chemically have a body that can do that for us, to me is just like, ‘wow.’”
McFadden says families can start conversations about death by just having one person willing to start by sharing their own wishes for the end.
“It’s inevitable, we’re all going to die. I think it’s insane, we’re all going to die, but we’re all like, ‘ewwwww.’ No one wants to talk about it. I’ve just seen time and time again that the families and patients that are willing to talk about it, willing to go there, that they have a better experience with the death, the death that’s inevitable.