When you or others are grieving, give permission to be vulnerable and accept help. It may sometimes be helpful to work with a therapist.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | November 7, 2022 | 2 min read
By Justin Jeffers, MD, MEHP, Johns Hopkins Medicine
In two and a half years, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my wife and I lost a pregnancy at 20 weeks on Christmas Eve, my dog died, my father died, my wife and I had a stillborn daughter at 22 weeks, and then my wife spent 12 weeks on bedrest with our next pregnancy. This is what I’ve learned:
The hardest thing someone goes through is exactly that; the hardest thing they have gone through.
Don’t judge, compare, contrast, or even relate. It’s up to us to empathize and support however we can. Don’t share your story. Don’t offer up a “pep talk.” Avoid silver linings. These things are not helpful in the moment. Instead, bring food. Babysit. Sit in silence. Cover a shift or clinic day. Offer a hug. Give a genuine, “I’m so sorry.” Think about things that would make your day easier and do those for others.
Processing trauma makes you stronger.
When experiencing grief, find a therapist. They’re specially trained to ask the right questions at the right time to help you process your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
There’s no wrong way to grieve (within reason).
Accepting that whatever emotions you’re experiencing are appropriate goes a long way towards processing your grief. Anger, guilt, remorse, regret, and sadness are all appropriate. Give yourself a break. Accept the emotions, consider why you’re feeling the way you do, and work through them.
Much of processing grief comes down to permission.
Give yourself and others permission to grieve. We need to remind ourselves that it’s ok to grieve. Give permission to be vulnerable. You don’t have to be strong all the time or even most of the time. Be vulnerable. Give permission to accept and ask for help. When help is offered, our default response is to say, “No, I’m good. Thanks for the offer.” Fight that urge. People genuinely want to help. Let them. It will make your day easier. Give permission to be in the moment. When triggered about a current or past traumatic event, don’t fight it. Allow that moment of emotion to occur. Work toward a positive internal dialogue to accept the moment.
No one looks back on life wishing they worked more.
I’m not suggesting we all go part time and “live our best life.” Not only is that unrealistic, but it’s also not fair to the hard work we’ve put into our careers. It’s certainly not fair to our patients. I’m suggesting we all consider what workload is healthiest for us at a given moment. It’s ok to set work boundaries. It’s ok to pursue hobbies with passion and drive.
We will all experience grief during our lives. Unfortunately, most of how I learned to process grief was trial and error. I hope the lessons I’ve shared will help your cope with your own grief as well as the grief of friends, family, and patients.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.