Most people avoid talking about death at all costs. But not Julie McFadden, a California hospice nurse who has gone viral on TikTok for talking about just what happens at the end of life.
McFadden, maybe better known as Hospice Nurse Julie on Tiktok and Twitter, started making videos on TikTok about six months ago after her nieces introduced her to the platform. She now boasts more than 413,000 followers on the video sharing platform.
“I knew I wanted to get information out in general. I felt like it was a very taboo topic that should be so taboo,” McFadden told USA TODAY. “I think I made like three or four TikToks and four days later, one of them blew up. It just kept happening over and over again.”
One of those videos discusses a phenomenon dubbed “The Rally.” Hospice patients will suddenly seem like they’re getting better – many resume eating, some start walking again and others will talk or laugh.
The burst of energy is short lived, however. Many patients die within hours or days of “The Rally.”
“It happens to probably a third of our hospice patients,” McFadden says in the video. “So much so that we try to educate the family about this before this happens so it doesn’t devastate them when they suddenly pass after doing so well for a few days.”
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The technical term for the occurrence is terminal lucidity, and it’s hard to know just how often it happens, said Dr. Christopher Kerr, a hospice physician for 23 years.
“I don’t think there’s really good numbers on that,” said Kerr. “It certainly it is safe to say that it’s not uncommon.”
McFadden talks about other unexplained phenomena in her videos, including a occurrence where patients say they see dead relatives, friends and even pets up to a month before they pass.
The experience usually isn’t scary for the patient, McFadden explains in her video.
“It’s usually very comforting to them. They usually say they’re sending a message like ‘We’re coming to get you soon’ or ‘Don’t worry. We’ll help you,'” McFadden said.
Kelly Rice, the senior coordinator of social workers at Tidwell Hospice, said she’s seen both of the phenomena in her 11 years of working with hospice patients. One such experience with a patient has always stuck with her, she said.
“A gentleman who was clearly seeing babies. What I came to find out through his wife is that they had experienced several miscarriages early on, and they never did have children,” Rice said.
The experience is actually very common, according to research conducted by Kerr and his team.
“What we found is the vast majority of people, nearly 90% of people, in the last usually weeks of life, can report at least one very distinct experience, which is usually vivid, comforting and very meaningful,” Kerr said.
But what’s true for one hospice patient is not true for all, and their experiences are often very individual, Rice said.
McFadden said she has worked as a nurse for 14 years, first working as an intensive care unit nurse for “nine or 10 years” before transitioning to hospice nursing. It was in the ICU where she became passionate about death and wanting to educate others about it, too.
McFadden declined to name her place of employment for privacy reasons.
“I just saw that there’s a missing gap in treating the whole person and really figuring out what the family what the patient would really want long term,” McFadden said.
McFadden says the feedback to her videos has been mostly positive. Most people are interested to learn more and it’s connected her with a whole online community of other people whose jobs involve death.
And while many couldn’t imagine being so close to death, McFadden she’d never do something else.
“To be able to provide somebody with answers and comfort and care and to help that process be easier, it feels like a gift,” McFadden said.