By Colleen Boyle Sharp
Special to the CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – For Sue Kriger nursing is not just a career, it’s a calling.

A registered nurse for 34 years, Kriger began her vocation in health care working in the oncology unit for what was then Frankford Hospital, Torresdale Campus, in Northeast Philadelphia. Now a nurse for Holy Redeemer Hospice for 17 years, Kriger says her switch to hospice care seemed like a natural transition.

“Working in oncology for so many years I saw a lot of suffering,” she said. “Treatments didn’t always work. I came to a point in my career that I wanted to be involved in end of life care, treating the whole person not just the disease.”

Kriger, a wife and mother of two, said her job is to help the patient die with dignity and in peace.

“Life is very sacred, and through hospice nursing I’m able to not only alleviate (people’s) suffering but be a part of their physical, emotional and spiritual care,” Kriger said. “It’s our responsibility as hospice nurses to help the patients find peace. We tell them it’s OK to let go and help them be accepting that they are going to be with God.

“Sometimes it’s ironic,” she said. “The patient actually wants us to know it’s going to be OK. Oftentimes it’s as simple as a reassuring touch from a patient and you know that they are telling you that they are going to go and they are going to go peacefully.”

A member of St. Christopher Parish in the Somerton section of Northeast Philadelphia, Kriger admits there are bad days but credits her Catholic faith with providing her the strength she needs to keep going.

“I pray a lot,” Kriger said. “I have a rosary CD in my car that I pray while I’m driving, especially after a patient passes. There are a lot of tears in this job; you’re not only dealing with the patient but the families as well. My faith gives me a peace that I share with the dying and strength that allows me to help the families go on.”

At 54, Kriger says this is the only job for her, and she plans to continue to work in hospice care until she retires.

“I love what I do and I love working for Holy Redeemer,” she said. “We are truly like a family here and we all work together because we have an obligation to our patients to help them die with comfort and dignity. That obligation is very important to us.”

Colleen Boyle Sharp is a freelance writer and photographer, and a parishioner of St. Katherine of Siena in Philadelphia.