This article is part of an ongoing study aimed at illuminating the meaning of dependency on care. The aim of this particular study is to illuminate the meaning of the phenomenon ‘dependency on care’ as narrated by nurses. Interviews with 20 nurses were conducted, tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. A phenomenological-hermeneutic approach was used to interpret the data. The meaning of dependency on care is revealed as laborious for both patients and nurses. The nurses' text discloses that for patients, dependency on care is a miserable loss of self-determination and self-worth. Nurses appear to be moved by dependants' difficult life and want to do whatever they can for the dependant. Dependency on care is a burdensome responsibility for nurses. For nurses dependency on care is revealed as evoking feelings of guilt and insufficiency and of being constantly concerned and worried. It is to struggle to be patient and understanding, having the arduous task of putting oneself into the dependent patients' shoes in order to cope with the demanding task of balancing between helping and not helping too much. The interpretation discloses, however, that nurses distinguish between easy and trying dependency on care. The understanding indicates that when they meet ‘good’ patients, nurses reappraise the situation, transform it into something new and meaningful, that is dependency on care is disclosed as ‘easy to take’. When coming across‘difficult’ patients dependency on care is disclosed as trying. It seems that within the unique nurse–patient relationship patients may participate in such a way as to facilitate or inhibit nurses in finding meaning in the immediate caregiving situation. Nurses' evaluations of what constitutes a ‘good’ or a ‘difficult’ patient, respectively, seem to play an important role in distinguishing between dependency on care that is easy and that which is trying. The result is viewed through an existential paradigm and there is also reflection about what nurses perceive as valuable qualities in patients which might influence the quality of care.