Endings & Beginnings-Grief, Loss, and Letting Go

As an oncology health care provider, it is crucially important to process grief and loss in order to best care for yourself and your patients.

As a child, time was vast and never-ending to me. The last day of school would finally arrive, and summer seemed to stretch far into the future. When my parents and grandparents warned me that as I got older, time would go by faster and faster, I couldn’t imagine how that could be possible. Yet, here I am, all grown up and watching time whiz by quicker with each passing year.

With the advent of technology, it also seems as if the speed of change has accelerated. Innovation happens so fast that it is hard to keep up. But one very important experience is getting lost as we barrel through life in the 21st century: the process of grieving. Even when a certain change is perceived to be for the better, we need to consciously let go of the associated negative thoughts and feelings in order to grow through the experience.

As healthcare professionals, we are acutely aware of beginnings and endings. Every day at work, we are witness to the cycle of life and death. This concept applies not only to people but also to processes, ideas, and treatments: just as some are being “born,” others are dying. Here are a few ways that we can cope with change by consciously acknowledging and processing feelings of grief and loss:

  • “Check in” with yourself. Allow yourself a 2-minute self-check once or twice a day. Find a moment to stop and assess how you’re feeling emotionally. If all is well, carry on. If not…
  • Identify the contributing factors affecting your emotional wellbeing.
  • Ask yourself what kind of support, resources, or action steps you need to improve your emotional wellbeing. If you’re not able to take action immediately, then assign yourself a date by which you will do so. When we know we have a plan and a schedule to attend to something, it helps us to feel more present and in control.
  • Give yourself permission to grieve. Being stoic, believing that grief is simply part of the job, or pushing grief away only amplifies it. Grief accumulates and compounds over time if we leave it unexpressed. We all grieve in our own way. Find out what approach to grieving works for you.
  • Learn to let go. The more we try to keep things the same when change is inevitable, the more grief we cause ourselves. Allow yourself to release feelings of grief and loss. A good cry never hurt anyone. There are many other ways to relieve painful feelings, including journaling, support groups, movement, painting, music, meditation, and more.

Give yourself the gift of time to honor feelings of grief and loss. It is an investment that will pay off for you, your patients, and your co-workers. The more we master this process of grieving mindfully, the less time it takes us to process changes over time. You put your heart and soul into your work, so don’t forget to take the time to nuture yourself as well as your patients.