Processing Grief and Knowing When to Seek Help

April 19, 2016

As a chaplain, I’ve seen more than my share of grief.

Our Spiritual Care Team is called to every death at NHRMC so that we can help support families when their loved one dies. Part of the chaplain’s role is to help people begin the grieving process. Unfortunately, we don’t often get to follow people through the process to the end; we only get the raw grief and anger and deep sorrow that comes with a loss.

Chaplains stand beside the grieving, often quietly, and let them begin to process their loss. We listen to their feelings which can range from disbelief if it’s a sudden loss, to relief if it’s been a long ordeal. No one is happy when their loved one dies, but death can bring relief when the process has been long and arduous, and a loved one has been suffering. The end of that suffering is a relief. The death is not.

Chaplains respond to all kinds of deaths: the traumatic and the expected. We are witnesses to traumas, termination of life support, fetal demises, deaths by drowning, suicide, homicide – you name it – we’re there. We hold the grieving in a sacred space in which they can be – just be – for a moment. We let them vent, cry, scream, or be silent. We don’t push or rush or ask them to be anything other than who they are in that moment. We stand beside them as they say their last goodbyes, and help them figure out the next few steps. Often, we even walk them to their vehicles to help them through their disorientation.

In On Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describes the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.Others who followed her have added more phases of grief to include shock and guilt. Whichever way it is described, it is a process. 

Hospital staff experience losses as well. We are impacted by the deaths and losses we witness. We also have personal lives which impact our work life. Some employees endure divorce or lose a child, a parent or a spouse. Or maybe a spouse loses their job and an employee loses the house. All those cares and concerns weigh us down and then we encounter the death of a patient, and it can be overwhelming.

The grieving process can last a while, too. Most people think grief lasts between 48 hours and two weeks. They’ve missed the mark. The average period of mourning is two to three years. Also, multiple losses add layers of grief exponentially. The weight can feel unbearable, and anyone who has experienced several losses in a short time, even within a few years, should reach out for help.

Death isn’t the only loss which sparks a grief response. People experience many different types of loss. Some patients have to have amputations, and grieve over the loss of a foot or an arm. Some people recovering from a stroke grieve the loss of function that they had, and need to wrap their minds around what life will be like from this point on.

That’s what grief does – it marks the point from which life will be different. Life will be changed after the death of a loved one, the loss of a part of your body, or after the loss of function that you used to have. Life will be different, and you have to find a “new normal.”

Contact a chaplain

Chaplains are available for patients, families, and staff 24/7 in-house at the main NHRMC campus and can be contacted at 910.619.9879. Chaplains are available 24/7 for the Orthopedic Hospital and ED North at 910.342.2367. Anyone in need of assistance for grief may call 910.619.9879.

Categories: Your Health
Topics: Spiritual Care

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