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  • Writer's pictureEmily Del-Grande

Managing your own grief whilst supporting others

I recently sat with my Step Dad as he took his final breath. In that moment, the build up to which had been a harrowing 10 days full of no sleep, constant nurse visits, stat doses, milligrams, desperate pharmacy trips, cigars, timing breathing, classical music, funny stories, goodbyes and desperation.... time just froze.

But then, the day moved on. It got dark, then it got light, the dogs needed feeding, the food shop needed doing and suddenly there was a new challenge- living.

Living whilst balancing the guilt of having to keep going.

Keeping going even though that brought triggers.

Managing triggers whilst doing a job that supports others.

Supporting others whilst looking after me.

And there we have it. How many people do a job which is a helping role and need to simultaneously balance their needs with that of those they work with? A surgeon would not be able to operate if they had injured their hand... however with support from a physio and medical professionals they would reach a point where they were ready to operate again. A neo-natal nurse with an auto immune condition may not be able to work with vulnerable babies due to the respiratory equipment they use... but with supportive management, a risk assessment and altered duties they may be able to find a solution.

If you support people with their mental health but you are struggling with your own, do you get medical support, speak to management, ask for alternative duties? Or do you push through? If your answer is the latter, you are not alone. Did you know that from the 1 in 5 people who take a day off for stress, 90% cite another reason (source: MHFA England). I suppose this is telling us that 90% of people do not feel 'stress' is a viable reason to have a day off, perhaps that they will be judged, criticised, reprimanded or maybe even sympathised with, cared for, held (believe it or not some people fear this too).

But the focus today is on grief, despite an overwhelming amount of other mental health related matters which can impact on your role in supporting others......

There is no linear way of managing grief and the way you manage yours is as unique as the person you are. But I would encourage you to hold onto that word after the death of a loved one. Tell people you are grieving because when you say something out loud, you are more likely to understand it yourself, to accept it and process it. And with that in mind, consider your job and the people you work with, what is happening for them right now, are any of them grieving, might their difficulties trigger you, does your job enable you to have head space but return to your own grief at the end of the day?

Then put your own mental risk assessment in place and consider:

  • Do you need to amend your client load temporarily

  • Do you need additional support from work

  • How could you protect yourself and your client if triggered

  • Do you need to make clients aware of your own loss

  • How can you ensure you are practicing ethically considering your own loss

  • Is there enough space in your life to process what has happened to you

Finally, I think it is important to note that you can prepare as much as you like, but those who have grieved know it comes back and bites you when you least expect it. Some triggers are unexpected and you simply cannot control them. So when they happen, just notice it and hold your grief as gently as you can until you are ready to start stepping forward again. You've got this.

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