Let’s face it—there’s no ‘good’ time for the loss of a loved one. No good time of year—the twilight of someone’s life doesn’t watch a calendar, and doesn’t punch a time clock. Loss is never easy, but somehow when it occurs around a special holiday, like Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, a birthday, or an anniversary, it feels particularly more difficult. The loss of a child, however, makes other losses somehow seem small.
Recently, several colleagues and I were grieving over the recent loss of some children—words can’t describe the awkward feel to the pain, and the questions we each felt, such as, why?
If we think about it—the loss of anyone is also the loss of a child—someone’s child. This comes with one big difference, however. With the loss of an elderly person, although difficult, it’s expected—seems natural. The loss of a child feels anything but natural.
As a nurse for the last twenty-four years, I’ve seen my fair share of losses—from the very young, to the very old. It’s never easy, but I believe it’s an honor to be a part of someone’s final moments, final breath, final heartbeat. It’s an opportunity to be fully present at someone’s most vulnerable time—sometimes the most beautiful, tender, moments are reading to someone, praying at a bedside, just holding their hand or stroking their face. Being fully present is an opportunity to witness someone ‘standing at the gates of Heaven.’ At least I try to picture that, which brings me comfort.
Loss doesn’t strictly involve dying, though. Loss is perceived in the loss of a job, spouse or significant other, a new diagnosis, move or career change. The loss can also be anticipatory—anticipating what’s ahead. Loss can also be reflective—missing who someone once was—I see this a lot with loved ones for dementia patients. Whatever the reason for loss—the feeling is real, painful, and deserves recognition.
As I sit here looking around my living room, admiring my Christmas tree, it’s a time of reflection. Reflection of joy and sorrow, a reflection of loved ones lost, and a reflection of patients who I’ve had the privilege to be a part of their lives. I’m filled with immense gratitude for my patients—children, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents. I can’t imagine a better career. Being a nurse is where the ‘rubber meets the road’ in healthcare—I firmly believe that—but even nurses feel loss, and need to take time to reflect.
The holidays are filled with such joy—from the decorations, lights, parties, gifts, and carols, but let’s not forget those who are struggling to find joy at this time. It’s not always, “the most wonderful time of the year.” Those who have suffered loss, or are in the midst of current suffering—they need us to recognize where they’re at, support them, encourage them, and not be afraid of them or their loss.
To quote Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Try to make it a point to be more intentional over this holiday season to help someone feel loved, supported, strong, and not lost.
As we sit on the cusp of a new year—2016, it’s difficult not to reflect on those who may have difficulty setting goals for the upcoming year. Those who have suffered loss have lost not only a loved one, but someone who was a large part of their life-goals—their daily life.
Working through what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified as the stages of death and dying (which can be applied to any type of loss)—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, in her book, On Death and Dying, is a huge part of recovery. One of the simplest things we can do to help in this journey is to not be afraid to reach out to a loved one this holiday season—let them know that you care.