Dealing with Grief & Loss As A Nurse
Losing a loved one is never easy to deal with. When I was a Nursing student, witnessing a patient’s death and seeing the pains that families go through, has always been difficult for me to deal with during clinicals. What I realized, however, is that the family going through the loss, is very much in need of comfort at this time. So, I developed strategies on how to suppress my feelings of losing a patient and instead offer my support to the family. This made more sense to me after I lost my mother two months after my graduation. I was aware of how much pain she was going through, and I even had to deal with the possibility of losing her before she passed away. That, however, did not prepare me for the loss and grief that I felt when she passed away. I appreciated every support and comfort that I received from family, friends and the hospital staff who sent their condolences. To this day, I still feel the pains of losing her.
This experience has made me more empathetic and determined to show support to any person dealing with the death of a loved one.
The stages of grief make more sense to me now. I went through every one of them. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance (DABDA).
DENIAL: After the loss of a patient, loved ones go through denial. Denial is an accepted, healthy and normal first reaction to loss and grief. During this stage, a nurse should show support and empathy to the family of a patient who passed away. When I first got the news that my mother passed away, I refused to belief that it was true. I kept telling myself that it was just a nightmare that I was having and that I would wake up to realize that it was not real. But… it was real.
ANGER: When the family going through a loss finally comes to terms with their loss, they then feel angry that a loved one is really gone. The most common reaction during this stage is blaming others for the death. I know this because when my mother passed away, I strongly believed that she died because the healthcare personnel were incompetent. Even though the healthcare system needs some reform in my country, it is mostly because there are little to no resources and hospital equipments available in hospitals. The staff showed support after I lost my mother. As far as I know, they took good care of my mother when she was alive. Being a nurse now, I know that healthcare personnel also go through grief.
BARGAINING: After dealing with anger, bargaining follows. At this point, a person going through grief has a conversation with a higher power. This might include a spiritual or religious connection to the loss. It so happens that I had a baby two months after my mother passed away. I believed, and still belief that God helped me deal with my loss by giving me a daughter, who I named after my mother.
DEPRESSION: it is very important to note that depression is a normal feeling during grief. It might come later, or last longer than you think, but it is still normal. Months after I lost my mother, I was hit by despair, emptiness, feelings of isolation and extreme sadness.
ACCEPTANCE: this is the final stage of the grieving process. The individual going through grief finally accepts the loss of a loved one and accepts that death is a normal process of life. Losing my mother will always be fresh in my mind, but now, I am able to look at her pictures without crying. I actually smile and laugh when I remember the good memories. I have learnt to celebrate a life well spent.
With the experience of losing someone so dear to me, I will most definitely be more supportive to grieving families in my Nursing career.
By Oumie Jatta.