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Thoughts on Grief: What Happens When We Begin to Lose the Ones We Love?

In my life I can safely say I was taught how to acquire things, how to consume, how to have and to hold, however, I was never taught what to do when I began to lose what I loved.

We are taught how to acquire things but never taught what to do when we lose them. In my life, I can safely say I was taught how to acquire things, consume, have, and hold; however, I was never taught what to do when I began to lose what I loved. As a nurse, I was taught how to fix things, stop the pain and bleeding, and initiate CPR. However, I was never taught what to do when the bleeding wouldn’t stop when a mother lost her child, CPR didn’t work when I became the patient, or when I was the one grieving the loss of my loved one.

As an Advanced Grief Recovery Specialist, I will walk us through a series about grief, and I invite you to join me as we look at what happens when we lose things we love. Together we will look at our grief and disentangle the myths we have been taught since childhood that no longer serve us. The hope is to see our grief not as something we need to hide in isolation but as an opportunity to create healing in relationships and community. In this series, we will develop courageous spaces for individual and collective healing, benefiting ourselves, our loved ones, our patients, and the nursing profession.

After losing my mother, I had difficulty finding words to describe how I felt. Looking back, I can say that some days I felt like I couldn’t breathe; other days, I felt like my body was moving slowly. However, most days, I felt numb. I remember being determined to stay numb so I could get through my 12-hour shifts in the ER without feeling the sadness, anger, or heaviness of it all. This worked until I had a patient who was dying from the same cancer my mother had, or CPR didn’t save our young patient, or I was yelled at by a patient for no reason, and I couldn’t help but yell back because the anger would just come so easily.

The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief in the following ways:

  • The normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind

  • The conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior

  • The feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find that when we need them one more time, they are no longer there

  • The feeling of reaching out to someone who has never been there for us and still isn’t

  • When our hopes, dreams, and expectations are not realized

I wonder if any of these definitions resonate with you. I also wonder how you would define grief. I love the definition of our grief being a normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind and yet it feels like we have been taught the exact opposite. Actually, our grief is not normal, and we should do everything in our power to suppress it, hide it, and get over it as quickly as possible.

When most of us think of grief we think of our tangible losses, such as the death of a loved one or a pet. However, grief also exists alongside our intangible losses such as loss of a promotion, getting a promotion and leaving coworkers we love, divorce, moving, loss of a job, loss of trust, loss of health, loss of faith, loss of safety, including being a recipient of racism, bias, and microaggressions. During Covid, we all experienced collective grief as we navigated similar and very different losses, including loss of community, safety, trust in our healthcare systems, loss of self, loss of our loved ones, loss of confidence in our government, and more. As nurses, we also experience secondary traumatic grief as we stand alongside our patients daily who are experiencing loss of many kinds. This cumulative grief lives in our bodies, and because we have not been taught what to do when we lose something or someone we love, we tend not to tend to our grief at all.

This is the beginning of our grief journey together. As we begin this journey, I invite you to join me in answering the following journal prompts to help us open up to our grief and start healing:

  1. How would you define grief?

  2. How would you define healing?

  3. Growing up, what were you taught about grief? Were you given safe and courageous spaces to share your sadness and true feelings? Describe your experience.

  4. What are some tangible and intangible losses you have had throughout your life?

As we walk in our grief together, please remember grievers do not need to be fixed, they need to be heard. This is a chance for us to be heard, together, as part of The Nursing Beat Community. I truly hope you will join me.

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