As we work with the aging population one thing is certain, a client that you care for, serve, and have grown to love will die. Those of us who have been in the field for several years likely have experienced several client deaths, and each time we have been faced with some degree of personal and professional grief.
Although grief and death are prevalent in our society and an expectation within the field of aging, the topic is still taboo and often ignored or swept under the rug. Ignoring the topic of grief can lead to detrimental side effects including depression, burn out, isolation, and can even result in staff turnover.
Frequent exposure to death does not have to be negative and can instead be an experience used for personal and professional growth. Being prepared for a grief experience can help you process grief as well as help you continue to work in the field of aging with confidence and compassion.
10 positive ways to help aging services professionals process grief include:
- Be patient with yourself – Do not expect to recover from grief immediately or respond as if nothing has changed.
- Find someone to listen to you – this can be a friend, coworker, supervisor, or professional.
- Express emotion as needed – This can be done through creative outlets such as journaling, writing poetry, or scrapbooking, physical outlets such as exercise or dance, or emotional outlets such as crying.
- Utilize quiet time – such as meditation, taking the time to be still, reading, or journaling.
- Maintain a healthy diet and a regular exercise and sleep schedule – Staying consistent and healthy will help your body to heal and maintain a sense of normalcy.
- Laugh out loud – This may seem impractical, and be hard to do when grieving, but laughter can heal the soul and bring joy amidst pain.
- Develop an interest or hobby – Focusing only on work is not healthy for anyone, particularly in times of high stress or grief. Finding a hobby or interest helps to bring balance to your life.
- Have at least one meaningful conversation a day – Meaningful conversations give you something to think about and process other than grief.
- Understand that pain is normal – There is nothing wrong with you for feeling pain over a client who has died that you cared for.
- Take time off work if needed – If you need to take time off to process your grief then do so. Not taking time off work when needed can prolong and inhibit processing grief.
Tonya Feller serves as the Director of Adult Services at New Hope Services, Inc., assisting adults in home and community programs to maintain their independence and increase daily living skills. She is completing her Master's degree in gerontology at the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community.