Grief is a normal and natural response to loss, and is an experience that everyone navigates at some point in life. As healthcare professionals, you likely support patients and families who are grieving the death of loved ones. It is important to remember that even in professional settings, healthcare workers who support bereaved people can experience grief as well. Given this, our team believes that healthcare professionals have an obligation to themselves and their patients to understand what grief-sensitive care looks and feels like.
Each person’s grief is unique and is shaped by various factors – including, but not limited to – an individual’s intersecting identities, family of origin, accessibility of emotional and financial resources, community safety, etc. How an individual experiences and expresses their grief is highly individual and often depends on age, developmental stage, religious beliefs, gender identity, family history, etc. Our response to loss is also impacted by whether (or not) it is acknowledged and supported by our family, community, and society. Thus, our team also believes that while learning about grief is an important first step, healthcare professionals must also practice cultural humility and open-mindedness when working with grieving families.
We grieve many things throughout our lives. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. Many people think of grief as a response to the death of a loved one. Grief may also be felt in response to other types of loss such as the loss of a significant relationship (i.e., breakup or divorce), receiving a life-changing diagnosis, or the loss of an imagined future. With these primary losses often come secondary losses such as the loss of faith and loss of social connections. Not all grief is the same, but all grief is valid.
Grief is not linear, does not occur in stages, and (unfortunately) has no step-by-step process. Grief is dynamic and often involves fluctuating between remembering what was lost and planning for what is needed to move forward. Further, grief does not necessarily get smaller and it is not something to "get over." Rather, life grows around grief over time.
Healthcare professionals are trained to care for others. This often includes showing empathy and compassion toward patients and their families. In addition to empathy and compassion, our team believes that a core tenet of providing grief-sensitive healthcare is reflection. We believe that in service of providing quality patient-care, healthcare professionals both deserve and need opportunities to reflect on their own thoughts, emotions, and experiences when interacting with and providing care to grieving families.