Grief is an understandable reaction to loss. It’s the emotional pain you experience when something or someone you care about is taken away from you. It can be excruciatingly painful at times. From shock or fury to disbelief, remorse, and deep grief, I experience a wide range of uncomfortable and unexpected feelings. Grief is a total whole person experience, and may have a negative impact on physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think clearly. These are common reactions to loss, and the greater the loss, the greater the grief.
Personally, my most profound experience with grief was during my time working at a retirement home in the heart of the pandemic. I was approached right before our home was hit with its first case to come work at the front desk. I was warned that things would be more intense than the work I was doing previously, but I was up for the challenge. Immediately I was hit with a whole different perspective that I did not get to see working in dietary. Besides working with management and staff, I experienced constant losses as I cared for residents.
I grew closest to the residents that had severe dementia on the second floor of the building. They loved my company and conversation. Making them smile and laugh brought them joy and allowed them to feel like they had loved ones around them. It made me feel attached and I would imagine caring for my own grandmother. Knowing that many of them did not have family visit, I felt proud that they remembered who I was and became excited when I arrived. Knowing this…was what really broke me when working through the pandemic.
Our first deaths were those with severe dementia, then other residents who I had newly become acquainted with. Having to hear the news at almost every shift that someone else had passed and watching the residents deal with the loss of their friends and loved ones was difficult.
There was no room to show any signs of emotion because they were so broken. Having to bottle these things in (still to this day) was debilitating. Having to speak to family members grieving over the deaths became numbing because again, you had to be strong. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to take away the pain from the residents and families made me feel almost like I was at fault. I could only offer my words and time to help them forget the world around them, even if for only a few moments.
These feelings eventually caught up to me and I realized I was burned out. I was extremely emotional on some days, then snapped into feeling numb and emotionless. The grief felt
like waves crashing down and flowing rapidly at all times. My emotions were about to burst and overflow at the drop of a hat. There were many moments at work that they did.
I wish there was more help for staff who have to suffer through this grief. When I reached out for help there was nobody there to listen or allow me to process what was happening. Why? Maybe because we were all dealing with this and because we all felt like we were drowning.
Grief doesn’t always get better with time; I am learning to function with it and it surprises me less often. I am forced to cope and adapt. It affects me in all aspects of my life. I have learned to seek help, and have learned how important mental health and selfcare is to cope with the grief. Recognizing and processing how I am feeling is the first step to getting better.
– KM, HPCO Project Coordinator Intern