Thursday Born

The everyday life of a psychiatry resident (who was born on a Thursday).

Coping with Grief

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I think that one of the reasons I’m taking this Pediatric Palliative Care rotation is because I don’t really know what to do when people, patients or their loved ones, are grieving. I don’t know how I’m supposed to talk to them. I don’t know yet when it’s okay to keep talking and when I should be quiet, I don’t know when I should leave or when I should stay. I know I won’t be able to learn all this in just four weeks, but it’s a start.

We, people, don’t talk much about grief. And when we do, it’s mostly in the context of death, not in the context of the ongoing loss that is associated with, for example, a severely ill loved one. Today I watched a young couple grieve after learning that their baby would be incapable of even the most minimal definition of meaningful life (severely under-developed brain), but as difficult as that was, it doesn’t compare to the numerous times I’ve been around parents caring for chronically, tragically ill and/or disabled children. They did not plan for this. Most people don’t ever think of the possibility of this becoming their life. And the available resources for assistance at home (or long term facilities where their children can  live) are pitifully lacking. I know I see them at their worst, when their child has landed in the hospital, again, or when they have just learned of the enormity of their situation, but still, my heart breaks for them.

I’m hoping this rotation will give me some beginning insight for how to better interact with these families. It is not, never has been, enough to sympathize with them, if I don’t know how to show that I am thinking of them. That I am proud of them for doing what they can, for living each day, for still finding things to smile and laugh about with staff. Even if there isn’t anything I can to do fix, or even help their child, there has to be some way I can be someone who adds something, however small, to their life. And if there isn’t, then I want to do what I can to minimize my footprint, to not take anything away from them.

I don’t want these families to fall into the same category as “starving children in Africa.” I don’t want their place in my life, in my work, to be a simple reminder that there are people out there dealing with harsher realities of life than my mundane concerns. And I don’t want to minimize their lives to this one thing, however big and consuming it is, because they are more than the parents of a sick child, just like Africa is more than just a continent full of corruption and poverty.

It feels somewhat trite writing an entry about this, almost like I’m exploiting their situation to write a good blog post. But these families do affect me, and there are many I will never forget. Not all these memories are sad either; some are bittersweet, and some are actually downright pleasant.

Written by Aba

January 17, 2013 at 7:26 pm

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