While nurses are dedicated to caring for others, they must also remember to care for themselves. Learning to grieve is an integral part of emotional well-being as most nurses will experience the loss of a patient at some point in their career. It is important to take steps to help prepare for those emotionally difficult moments.
“I encourage all nurses to have a grieving plan in place so they can process this loss in a healthy way,” said Susan Waltz, DNP, MSN, BSN, RN, an associate professor in the Master of Science in Nursing degree program at Chamberlain College of Nursing who has professional experience as a grief counselor.
Waltz provides the following four steps for establishing a grieving plan:
1. Identify a support system
Nurses should identify a safe outlet for sharing their feelings. “Several nurses I know have close friends or family members they lean on when grieving,” Waltz noted. “I’ve worked with other nurses who prefer to seek support through online chat or support networks, such as griefshare.org and Resolve through Sharing, or crisis hotlines. Others find it helpful to keep their thoughts in a journal, access mental health services in their area or seek out a faith community.”
Nurses who feel more comfortable seeking support from friends and family are encouraged to identify one or two people and let them know that they would like to count on them in that support role. They can then discuss how these people can be of help throughout the grieving process. Waltz added, “Identify what helps you heal, whether that is talking on the phone, exercising after your shift or having some quiet time alone. Spend time doing something you enjoy.”
2. Know yourself
Knowing yourself and your personality is crucial for identifying and dealing with grief. Taking a personality test before you experience a loss can help identify your personality traits. Personality traits guide how you may grieve and interact with a loss. Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself by Florence Littauer is a proven helpful resource to identify your personality, and others’, and develop an understanding of how you interact with others.
For nurses who have a nurturing personality, interacting with the patient’s family may help all involved cope with the loss. Detail-oriented nurses may find it helpful to create a checklist of action steps they need to take so they aren’t paralyzed by their grief.
“Everybody grieves, but people grieve differently,” Waltz explained. “Be patient and understanding with others who may not seem to be dealing with their emotions the same way as you. Don’t be afraid to cry with them.”
The Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation provides an outline of the five stages of death and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. People experiencing grief progress through these stages at various times, order and intensity.
3. Seek resources
Upon beginning a new nursing role, identify resources and benefits available through your employer. Many employers offer on-site grief counseling services and chaplain services and provide out-patient counseling via insurance benefits.
If your employer does not offer these resources, funeral homes and churches are often helpful in identifying quality literature and services in the community to help you cope with loss.
4. Go back to basics
Be sure to get a full night of rest and maintain a healthy diet, even if you don’t feel like eating. Physical activity is important for mental well-being, too.
“I often encourage grievers to take a walk or window shop,” Waltz explained. “Identify a place you can retreat to when you feel overwhelmed – nature, a nail salon or a favorite coffee shop. Find what works for you.”
Remember: You are important. Your well-being is essential to the extraordinary care you provide every day.
How do you process grief? We would love to know your personal tips for managing grief in a healthy way.