Death is never easy. It’s a topic that most will shy away from, even using every metaphor imaginable to not say dead. “Pass on” “expire” “going to a better place,” each one designed to avoid the very traumatic impact that the loved one is now gone. Dealing with death becomes even murkier when you’re talking about one of your own clients. You have had a connection, and been in contact, with this person fairly extensively at times, and yet, you’re not supposed to be a fully involved member of their life. So it seems strange to go through a grieving process for someone in this situation, yet it happens because our job intricately weaves together their life and ours.
When dealing with grief, it is socially acceptable to grieve because of a death of loved one or close friend. It is even seen as normal with feelings of loss surrounding divorce, health problems, or drastic changes in lifestyle, yet rarely does anyone address what occurs for the treatment team when a patient dies. Professional grief : the grief that comes along with saying goodbye to a member of your charge. As social workers, we grow to know many of our clients, sometimes even more than our colleagues. Our role is to help them balance their life and needs. We know their childhoods, their goals, their families/friends, their dreams, and their fears. Yet how often do we say goodbye? How often do we admit that we too are impacted by that loss?
There will be different levels to all things. Nature dictates that there will be clients we are closer with than others. Some of this is time we spend with them, some are transference issues, and some are just because their stories touch us in some way. We must learn that grieving for these people in our lives is alright and it is certainly healthy. Social workers cannot be afraid to be touched by those we strive to help. Depending on the job you do, death may be a frequent occurrence or a rare exception. Regardless, dealing with professional grief is a vital part of maintaining your integrity as a professional.
Always remember self-care and work to identify the feelings and symptoms associated with grief. Get help from a supervisor or colleague if you feel that these signs are getting worse. And never be afraid to admit that the death of one of your clients has impacted your life. It makes us human, and it allows us to do our job right.
By: Courtney Kidd