I was 24 years old, working with AIDS patients and tending to a dying brother at home. I would walk into work in the morning, exhausted and depleted. My coat would not even be off and someone would inadvertently tell me that so and so died last night. They had no idea that they shot me with daggers each morning. Some of the patients, mostly men at that time, I had grown to have deep bonds with simply because they were a human being that was in pain and suffering.
I'm now 35 and have learned a lot along the way in working with clients who are ill (physically, spirituality, or emotionally) and those who are dying. I'm not quite as naive as I once was, thinking I could help the world and make huge differences globally. I know now that I can make a huge difference in the heart and spirit of one person and if that happens, my life has been worth living.
Have Things Changed?
But 11 years later, I see the same callousness in the workplace, mine and others. I can still walk in the door and be told that so and so has died or that another has been sent to the psychiatric unit as if someone were telling me that they were having turkey on rye for lunch.
Someone who works in our agency said that she had never seen such compassionate people be so ugly to each other despite the love they give to families and clients. I was furious at this at first. I've sat with this statement for a long time now and see that, although it was not said in this manner, there was a pearl of wisdom in it.
We disenfrachise each other at work when we take for granted that telling someone difficult news will not hurt them, no matter how much professional distance we think we hide behind. We talk unkindly about families in team meetings, forgetting that one of those families could have deep connections to someone around the table. Worst of all, we forget that patients and families would be devastated to hear how we calliously talk about them during their most wounded time.
We think of disenfranchised grievers, according to the literature, as those for whom society does not expect or sanction bereavement experiences. Often we site a significant other of a gay couple, a sibling, a grandparent, a child. I think we, even as caregivers in the field, disenfranchise people from their grief when we are not mindful.
Mindfulness About the Experience of Others
We forget that a client who calls and is broken hearted about the loss of a dog is still grieving. I don't understand this; I've never been a pet person but I hear the pain in their voice and the look in their eyes as they enter my office. We forget that although we work in the field of dying and grieving, it is our friends, neighbors, former classmates, families that are those whom our facility or agency has served. We are not the judge of what losses are valid or not just as we are not the adjudicator of what feelings or ideas are wrong and right.
Our jobs are difficult there is no doubt. And so are the lives of those we work with, for, and next to. But no one has the training to tell someone that they should not grieve or that they should not "still" be grieving. My clients ache to tell their stories, to find a safe place to whisper their loved ones name. Whether the loved one was a soul mate or an abuser, there is still grief and it is not our job to judge it or by any means take it away from our client.
In the simplest of terms, are responsibility is to listen and be mindful of how people are interconnected and what the meaning of a loss is to our client, our chaplain, our office mate, ourselves. Yes, even to ourselves, we can disenfranchise our bereavement by telling ourselves that it's only work and can be put into a drawer at 4:30. The reality is that people touch our lives and that needs to be honored, in and of itself.