In my work with families dealing with serious illness, I see people who are in crisis and who are grieving on a daily basis. In my social work profession, as with any helping profession, one has to continue to learn how to walk the delicate line of having empathy and bearing witness to what someone else is going through, while also being able to go home at night and let go of the workday. Sometimes I struggle with this on both ends. Sometimes I have trouble letting go, and sometimes (if I am being honest) I find myself feeling somewhat disconnected from the raw emotions experienced by family members.
I was given a good wake-up call a couple of months ago when the family I was sitting with was my own, as my grandpa peacefully passed away in his apartment. No matter how much I thought I understood the dying and grieving processes and no matter how ready I thought I was to say good-bye, I was thrown a curve ball when I began experiencing feelings of regret and shock that he was really gone for good.
Unlike many of the patients I work with my grandpa was lucky enough to live a long, full life and spend his final days in his assisted living apartment which had become his home. He was under the care of hospice, the goals were clear, and everyone was on the same page. He died in his bed with all four of his children and four of his grandchildren (including myself) by his side.
Although I said “good-bye” to him each time I saw him over the last couple of years, I am still hit by random waves of sadness and shock that he is actually gone and I can’t call him to say hello. I am angry with myself for not calling him more in the last couple of months before he died.
In my work life, I strive to empower families with information, choice, and advocacy. As I reflect on my recent experience with the loss of my grandpa, I am reminded of the need to slow down, bear witness, and honor where people are in their process.