Approaching Grief

Louise Aarons is our Chief Operating Officer at Integrated Health Options.

I discovered a dear patient of ours had died during the last six months and I had not heard the news. I was moved to write a card to his mother and after receiving it she phoned me. We had never met but she shared with me her pain at watching her adult son die – what it was like on his last night to sit by his bed, and how she was feeling now in life. We both cried.

I believe that the experience of grief in our workplace, and life, comes through the perception of separation that loss brings and an anxiety about the impending sense of loneliness.

Our team often feels the heartache of their own life experiences in these moments. We are also deeply affected by the approach the patient themselves had to their own death.

A number of years ago, one of our nursing team joined us from a hospice environment and set up a monthly supervision session facilitated by an external counsellor. It has developed over time and we now have a member of the hospice counselling team to work with our staff.  Each month we sit together to talk over those who have passed and those who are unwell, who we are impacted by. Grief is felt daily in the many difficult situations that arise, so we will also talk as a team about the scenarios we do not know how to deal with and come up with an approach that feels right for all concerned.

A mother came in with her daughter and son-in-law. Her daughter was dying and we did not speak the same language. Walking from the reception desk, I sat next to her and gently placed my hand on her back. She quietly cried and acknowledged my presence with a nod. I got up and returned to my work with the resonance of the experience ringing inside myself.

Our reception staff can often be the first point of contact taking calls from family members to let us know that our patient has passed. Many years of working in this field never takes away the emotion of hearing such news – and nor would I want it to. It is unsettling to hang up the phone and return to work.

Over time we have come up with different techniques to help: we will take time off the floor and ask someone else to cover, we will come together as a team when there is a quiet moment in the clinic and have a minute of silence or sing a quiet song together. Other times, we will each write our own comments in a card to the patient’s family. When clinic demands allow, we will do what we can to attend the funeral and share the experience with the team when we return.

All of these things are how we approach grief within our workplace.

Recently we also discovered the Grief Centre.

One of their Counsellers came to share with us the numerous services and resources they make available. We are now able to refer our clients to them alongside any support we may wish to use.

It is part of our everyday work being confronted with this cycle of life and death, and I am glad for the opportunity to appreciate each day and to be reminded of the bigger picture in life.