Thursday, March 20, 2014

Grieving with the family of a patient

In the course of my work,spending as I do so much time in close proximity with patients and their families,sometimes it is difficult to be aware of the thin  and rather nebulous line of  involvement vs detachment that is drawn between us.

Especially today , with great strides in therapy and post therapy care , where  patients live longer and more enhanced lives as a counsellor one realises that one becomes quite an important component of those lives.

I share in their joys and grieve with them when they face losses – of any kind.  And as I have discovered along the way, I have to first learn to cope with my own grief at that loss before I can offer any help.

Recently , I had to make a visit to a nearby city to meet the parents of a young lady who passed away after three years of undergoing treatment for  a particular malignancy.  I have known the family for years and it was a difficult visit to make. I brought with me all my love and my wishes and despite having been in this situation
 so many times before , I realised how each time is like the first time and you never really know how to go about consoling and condoling .

Does one really ever know how to offer condolences ? Are words ever enough and even if they are , do we have the right ones ? How would our presence actually help ? Would it be intrusive ? Would it reopen wounds all over again? However close we are to the family , to the person , is that closeness a guarantee that our interventions will be well received and will make a difference ?
These are questions that always plague me when grief counselling is required .
This time too I realised I really had no answers to any of the above but would have to let my gut instincts guide me .

One thing I have learnt over the years is to always be my natural self ; never put on any cap other than the one that is inherently mine for that is the person who has gained the confidence of the patients and caregivers . And that is the very persona whom they are comfortable with .

I also always feel comfortable to let the bereaved family set and lead the tone of the meeting.

The amount of strength within one’s self is never apparent unless there is a need for it to reveal itself, right ? And always , we are able to do that .

 The parents  greeted me warmly with smiles and warm hugs and it was apparent they were happy to see me.

 Sitting in companionable silence we each took our time to say what we had to and gradually they both began sharing and once they began talking it was evident they had not been able to talk about many things so freely before , maybe even with each other .

I just listened to them and let them find comfort in that.

Later they shared with me that it was what they saw as the “positive energy” I brought with me and how that has always helped them cope be physically active and engaged in some activity or the other and to keep the happiness quotient alive at all times . It may seem strange to use the work happy of the feeling so opposed to sorrow and mourning but I have seen that a combination of energy and positive action does in fact encourage thoughts that are not so grief laden .

I came back to Bombay knowing that my visit had definitely made a difference and with lessons learnt , some re learnt
   Always be there for your patients. They need you and do not doubt that

·        Be yourself – the person your patient knows and can be free and honest with
 No matter what the occasion keep your spirits up and bring the positive energies with you
Be ready to listen

·        Offer concrete avenues of thought and action that reaffirm the fact that life has to go on

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