“While nurses are healthcare professionals, and patients are health care consumers, both are people first, and share as part of their common humanity, experiences of vulnerability, suffering, and healing.” Registered Nurse and Fellow of the Australian College of Nursing, Jason Mills.
Being a caregiver comes with immeasurable rewards, but it also comes with great loss. Not only the loss when a client or patient passes away, but you may also feel a range of losses in your career. Some of these forms of grief can go unrecognised, unacknowledged, and as a result have a great effect on many areas of your personal life; your feelings, your physical health, your mental wellbeing, even your financial situation.
“Some nurses may feel that it is somehow ‘unprofessional’ for them to grieve for a patient, and this may result in their feelings not being acknowledged or considered valid.” Says Mills.
“This lack of acknowledgement and validation can lead to ‘complicated grief’, which has been associated with a variety of negative emotions and psychopathology.”
Complicated Grief is just one of the many forms of grief that respond to a many variety of losses a carer is likely to experience in their working life. Often, primary caregivers––those whose take on the daily responsibility for someone’s well-being––feel a piece of this loss each day, more deeply and in a way that others in their lives probably don’t.
One of the most commonly experienced types of grief experienced in healthcare, particularly with the elderly, is anticipatory grief.
Anticipatory grief will most likely be felt by full-time carers of patients or loved ones with a terminal illness, as well as those suffering from debilitating, chronic illness, such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease. But it can also have great affect nurses or carers in Aged Care or palliative care, particularly for those who form close bonds with clients.
It’s important to recognise and acknowledge when you’re being affected by something as nuanced as anticipatory grief. Processing grief can take a hell of a lot out of a person, and it is only going to have a snowball effect for you and your clients if it’s not addressed with care.
Anticipatory grief is not easy to pinpoint, it’s quite the chameleon and changes over time. And it’s further complicated when coupled with caregiver’s stress and exhaustion.
Here’s a little checklist to help recognise and work through anticipatory grief and other symptoms of grief that may arise from your working relationships.
How to recognise Anticipatory Grief.
To simplify, the process can look something like this:
- Shock about the upcoming loss,
- Denial of the reality of the loss,
- Acceptance, eventually
And symptoms often include sadness, anger, isolation, forgetfulness, and depression.
While the symptoms are dressed-up as a type of depression, it’s really a distinct form of grieving–– a natural, expected response to caring for someone with a long-term or incurable illness. And it can hurt as much as what you feel when a loved one dies.
According to a report by Global Qualitative Nursing Research, anticipatory grief should be viewed as a mental process for adapting or dealing with a patient’s illness or death.
Experiencing the anticipation of grief and facing a patient’s mortality can create a sense of “static time”, making it impossible to plan for the future and as a result, might lead to an inadequate bereavement which is why it’s so important to acknowledge.
How to deal with Anticipatory Grief.
There’s not a straightforward protective function for any symptoms of grief. With anticipatory grief, it’s even more difficult.
Once recognised, the best way to deal with it is similar to most forms of grief, and that is: Let it happen. Accept it, don’t fight it, and work through it with mindfulness and an appropriate self-care regime.
Give yourself a break.
Make sure you’re getting plenty of rest––sleep, and any downtime away from work you can get. Grief can take its toll emotionally and physically without you even realising it.
Whatever it takes.
Give your body what it craves. Do you want to exercise for 6 hours? Do it. Do you want to sleep and watch Netflix for your whole day off? Do it. In times like these, you should not be hating on yourself for eating all the ice cream, or the fifth bowl of pasta, or for not finishing the renovations in time for Christmas. Just go easy on yourself. Let it happen, in times of grief, you require kindness and part of that is being kind on yourself.
Talk about it, please.
Communicating your feelings with people will ease a lot of mental stress. Knowing you’re not going crazy and that the feelings you have are natural will help you experience the process without going deeper into depression. If you have friends who have experienced similar, seek them out. People love to help. If you’d prefer to talk to a stranger, arrange therapy. Let it out.
There are plenty of channels for support within the nursing profession, including Nurse & Midwife support services for all nursing staff, students and educators. You can access this support via www.nmsupport.org.au
You can also talk to your GP who will refer you to appropriate support services. And if you would rather remain anonymous contact Beyond Blue to talk through some of your symptoms of grief.
Above all, it’s important all carers understand grief is a natural response and have no shame in acknowledging it and seeking support.