Grieving in the Workplace

What happens when we lose someone who wasn’t our family or close friend? How do we grieve? How do we cope when it’s our job?

Working in a nursing home means dealing with loss. This loss can often be difficult to cope with as when the resident passes, no one looks to the caregiver to see if they’re okay because the focus immediately goes to the family; as it should. As a caregiver I know how that loss impacts me and learning how to grieve effectively has taken years to master — and in some cases, I still can’t cope well.

I spend more time with my residents at work than I do with my own family. I laugh with them, I cry with them, I get to know them and their relatives, I grow to love them and they me. They become a beautiful extension to my own family. I care for them and look out for them and when they’re sick I worry. And when the times comes that they do pass away, I feel that grief. Deeply.

Some may argue that we shouldn’t grow emotional attachments with the people we work with. I disagree. I don’t believe that closing yourself off emotionally to the people you care for is healthy. I think it creates an inability to love your job which prevents us from giving 110% to those we’re caring for and ultimately makes everyone miserable in the end.

I do believe strongly in healthy professional boundaries. But in my line of work, at a nursing home, with eighty-year-old people who have been ripped from their homes and have lost everything, they deserve someone who cares.

It’s also not possible for me to personally spend 40 hours a week with the same people and not grow to care about them. Especially the ones who add value to my life and make me excited to go into work. They quickly become my joy within my job so without them, how do I keep going once they’re gone?

Every person copes differently but I’ve done my best to understand that they never moved into the nursing home to get better and that I’ve done the best I could to add joy to their last few moments in the physical world. Which is also why I believe it’s so important to give them 110%.

I cry and allow myself to feel those emotions. I reminisce with my coworkers and the family members of the resident. I remind myself of my role and the fact that the individuals I work with are anywhere from eighty to one hundred years old. They’ve lived full lives, they have beautiful families and the are no longer suffering through pain or disease.

As hard as it may be to lose a person you care about, it’s important to take care of ourselves in those situations. Especially if you’re a caregiver as burn out is a real and brutal thing; not to mention incredibly difficult to come back from.

Have a strategy to get yourself through those tough moments. Know what works best for you and how you cope and what you have to do to find peace with the situation. Recognize where your strength comes from: faith, friends, family, etc. And also know that us caregivers have one of the hardest most rewarding jobs on the planet and we must stay strong so we can continue bringing happiness in the journey of others.

If you have any coping mechanisms (healthy ones) that you’d like to share, feel free to leave me a comment. I’m always looking for new self-care tips!

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