By: DeAnna Caudillo, MPH(c), Community Organizing Specialist, The Independence Center I President, NALHE Denver Metro Chapter
Coping with Grief and Loss: “New Normal” for Healthcare Professionals?
Let’s talk about grief.
The recent shooting in Colorado Springs is another incident of gun violence in America, and since it occurred on November 19th, 13 additional people have lost their lives in similar incidents. The latest addition to that list were 7 individuals in a Walmart in Virginia where the gunman was a fellow employee.
There is a heavy burden of grief that is put upon the shoulders of those who are left behind as well as those who are brought into the story of these shattered lives and communities. And while healthcare providers may say that they are desensitized through years of training and experience, their grief may just look a bit different but is no less heavy to carry.
Colorado is no stranger to mass shootings. In 1999 Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, caught the world’s attention, and there have been many high-profile cases since then. But that doesn’t mean that Coloradans are immune to the grief and loss that comes with gun violence. It does mean that we create rituals to help us process the pain. We cultivate resources to carry the grief so that it doesn’t carry us off to an unknown wilderness where we are lost forever. It means that Coloradans, like many in this nation, grapple with what to do and what to say when our neighbors, loved ones, co-workers, and friends, are inextricably taken away from us.
Health care providers give much needed care and support to those who are directly involved with mass shootings. They protect their confidentiality, they help them heal, and they connect them with resources for their “new normal” once they are discharged. And that’s all incredibly important and needs to happen. But I would invite us, as health care providers, to also look across the desk, peer down the hallway, and find the staff that are also impacted by these events. They are asked to deal with grieving families, media requests, law enforcement, and a host of other groups that can be overwhelming, while they diligently try to provide care and healing for those brought through their doors.
I would encourage us to talk openly about how these incidents shape our staff and don’t treat it just like any other day. The staff live in these communities. The patients are their neighbors, and the feelings of being equally vulnerable can touch providers in ways that they may not even recognize.
Grief is something that we, as a nation, do not talk about well. We look the other way. We try to pretend that if we just don’t mention it, it will go away. But grief isn’t like that. Grief must be unpacked, shared, and felt deeply, in order to not be hijacked by it.
So, reach out. Call people if you are thinking about them. Bring groceries because those who are grieving may not have the energy to shop. Take a moment and look someone in the eye and tell them you care and want to hold space for them whether they want to talk out loud or just sit and feel the emotions that arise for them.
It’s not helpful to just carry-on business as usual. There’s nothing usual or business like about a mass shooting. Although these incidents are becoming increasingly common in our country, we owe it to each other to call out the fact that these experiences are jarring and wrong.
NALHE is about family. And as a family we acknowledge that we are deeply connected to one another. The pain of our staff and colleagues is our pain. The tragedies of our community members are ours to hold and heal. We take on a tremendous amount of responsibility when we lean into love. The family connections that we make bind us to one another. So, as we close out this month, let us reach out and touch the lives of those within our “family”. There is an ancient power in listening and then acting.
I invite you all to pick up the phone, walk down the hall, drive to your friends, and show up as the loving family member that you want to be and are.
Contact: DeAnna Caudillo, firstname.lastname@example.org
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