Caring for Ourselves: Suggestions for Healthy Grieving
By Jennilu King, Bereavement Counselor at Compassionate Care Hospice
As professionals in human services, we often feel ambivalent about how to act when someone we have worked with over a significant time period dies. We are trained to maintain objectivity, but in our day-to-day connections with those we serve, authentic caring leads to a genuine sense of loss when a life ends.
Dismissing or minimizing our feelings of loss erodes our capacity for emotional health and resilience in this difficult work. Equally, inappropriate ways of expressing our grief can become an additional burden on those we serve and hinder our ability to meet their needs. The question, “Is this about me or about them?” is always appropriate!
How then can these experiences deepen our understanding, open our hearts, and strengthen our commitment to the profession we have chosen? The following suggestions are offered with the hope that they will help us to better understand ourselves, to connect in healing ways with those who grieve, and to find healing for our own unfinished losses.
Acknowledge and honor the significance of the loss to yourself first. Allow time to explore what you are feeling.
Allow awareness of other losses this death may be bringing up for you. In grief, new events can reconnect us to unresolved prior losses. We are the accumulation in the presence of all that our life experience contains, and as we mature, our ability to understand and gain perspective on our life increases. Like climbing further up a mountain, your perspective broadens as you go. A present loss may revive sadness and pain from long ago. Taking the time to identify and allow these feelings provides a context for the present moment.
Attend the viewing or services. If you have an opportunity, share a story or memory of the deceased. This can be done online, in person, or on a card. But being present for a conversation with a family member can be a lasting memory for them and bring peace to your own sense of loss.
Find a way to recognize the person’s life and story—contribute to a cause he valued or an organization that was helpful to him. Whenever we take the raw material of suffering and create goodness and beauty out of it, we bring healing to the world.
Purchase a plant for your yard or garden and as you water and care for it, remember the person who died with gratitude.
Plan an hour or an afternoon in a quiet outdoor space where you can reflect on your care for this family, your relationship with them, and how your life has been enriched by them. You might want to write a letter and read it aloud, or release a balloon on a breezy day and watch it drift up into the sky with a prayer of gratitude…
Browse a bookstore for books on grief and loss. There are many good ones. An excellent choice on this topic is “When Professionals Weep”, edited by Renee Katz and Therese Johnson. Few of us were taught how to deal with loss, but learning to mourn well is essential to living effectively.
Remember that mourning is about doing something. We are consoled by expressing how we feel, by sharing in the rites of grief with others who are also mourning, and by undertaking specific activities to honor the life of the person who died.
Recognize that your mission with this person is complete.
Every day we are reminded of two things: the beauty and the impermanence of life. They are inseparable—it is only because of the fragility, the impermanence, of life that it becomes precious. Our task is to live meaningfully in the balance: celebration and mourning, birth and death, beauty and destruction. Neither rejecting the one nor clinging to the other, our way through is living wholeheartedly in the midst of all that we are given today and accepting the full range of emotion and experience that life brings us.
Those we have loved are always with us, and there will be others we have not yet met. As Helen Keller noted, “What we have once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”