Hospice Nurse Julie McFadden Is on a Mission to Help Us Better Understand Death So We're Less Afraid.
There's an ease that comes from listening to Julie McFadden. The hospice nurse has a way of talking about death so it's less scary.
McFadden, widely known as Hospice Nurse Julie, has amassed millions of followers across her multiple channels dedicated to shedding light on the death and dying experience. In her videos, she speaks candidly about what happens and what to expect. Her goal is to alleviate the fear and confusion that clings to this inevitable part of life.
"It's about education and having people be willing to understand and learn that before it's happening in their lives," McFadden tells The Sunday Paper by phone. "I want to get people ready and talking about it, so when that time comes, either in their or their loved ones' lives, they can see the opportunity to be in that most sacred moment."
A CONVERSATION WITH JULIE MCFADDEN,RN,BSN
Why do we fear death and surround it with such sadness?
Anything unknown is scary. I always say death is not nothing to fear. I wish we wouldn't, of course, but it's normal that we do. For close to 100 years, there has been an industry of death that has sanitized it and taken it out of our homes. People started dying more in hospitals, so we weren't seeing what it looked like to die a natural death where we let it happen naturally without any intervention. Before the funeral home industry, death was happening in the home. Wakes were happening in the home. We were used to seeing it. Now that we're not, it can feel really scary. That has created a lot of fear and taboo around it.
We've also been taught that death is something to hush. It's an awkward topic because we're not used to talking about it. It's turned into a no-no topic—and I'm trying to change that.
How has being a hospice nurse shifted your view of death?
I've been a nurse for 15 years and wasn't always seeing death like I do now. The first thing I started learning as a hospice nurse was: Wow, this is not what I thought. It's beautiful. And that's what I want to tell the world because I think most people don't know that. Yes, death can be sad, of course. I'm not the one grieving, so it feels different for me. But it's also beautiful, and I want the world to know.
What do we commonly get wrong about the dying experience?
If you're dying a natural death at home on hospice, death is not an emergency. Many people forget that because if you're not used to being around it or don't have the education around it, it can feel—like we said—scary. You may wonder, What's this happening? What's that happening? Why are they breathing differently? Why do they look like that? It can all feel like an emergency where something needs to be done medically or you must call people.
I urge people to take a breath and be in that moment. Because from what I've witnessed, death is like birth. Whenever I see a baby being born, even a video watching a baby being born, I instantly weep. That moment feels so sacred, seeing this new life come into existence. It's magical and wild and sacred. I instantly cry in a good way because of the power of that moment. That is how it feels—to me—when someone takes their last breath, if we can be present in that moment.
You get very real and specific in your videos, where you unpack various things that can happen during the dying process, such as the death rattle. Will you talk about your approach?
There's fear because people don't know what death and dying look and sound like. So people often associate these things they're not used to seeing or hearing, like the death rattle or their loved one's skin color changing, so they associate it with something being wrong. People often think their loved one is suffering or they're in pain or discomfort. I want to show these things in a video. I want to show real life and then explain as a healthcare professional what is happening, so when you see your loved ones doing this, you can know that it's normal, and here's why.
I'm hoping people who are willing to watch can learn. And then, if they experienced it with their loved ones, they now know and can be there with them.
What do you say to someone who may want to learn more about death but feels it's still too scary, hard, or overwhelming?
Ironically, one of them is my sister. And because I love and know her so well, I trust what she says. If she's saying, 'Hey, this is too much for me,' it might be because I know she loves me and wants to support me. In general, I have had people who thought it would be too much, and then they've watched and learned and have said it has helped them. This goes for things that I haven't even thought about, like death anxiety, which is a real thing people have. Many people have written to me, at least hundreds and maybe even thousands, telling me that watching the videos has relieved their death anxiety. So I do know people who say they can't watch or learn, and then they do, and it really helps.
Then also there are people like my sister who say, 'I'm trying, I do the best I can, I do little bits and pieces because I think it's important, but it still feels too much for me.' To that, I say you must listen to yourself. It's not right to shove it in people's faces. It's important to meet yourself where you're at. But I do encourage people to try.
What has being witness to so many dying experiences taught you about life?
So many things. What that has taught me is that death is a part of life. We are biologically built to do it in such a way that it makes me not afraid. This is beyond anything spiritual, and I do have a spiritual life. Our bodies can do it so well. Just like when giving birth, the body does things to help the baby survive the birth canal and come out. All these wild things happen without us doing anything. That's what the body does in death. Knowing that and seeing that has made me feel that there is something higher than us looking out for us—just by how we're designed. Knowing that our bodies are miraculously built to help us, even in the end, makes me not fear death.
And then it's also helped me appreciate everyday life. Most people tell me at the end of life, if they ever were to have regrets, it's the fact that they didn't appreciate their health. It's so easy to take for granted that you can walk around, taste food, or do everyday things. Being around these dying experiences has taught me always to try to remember this.
Julie McFadden, RN/BSN, is a nurse with a passion for educating people on the death and dying process. She creates informative videos for her TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube channels. You can learn more at hospicenursejulie.com.