Accepting and coping with loss is part of the package in our field. It can be very painful, but often it is the final chapter of the relationship between caregivers and those for whom they care.
There is peace and a kind of beauty in knowing that we have been given the gift and honor of walking with others at the sunset of their days. For me, it is incredibly special and, while often difficult, I feel blessed to have been a part of their journey, however briefly.
For the most part, such loss is not shocking. I work with people who have been living with long illnesses or who have slowly declined. Usually there is time, however fleeting, to prepare. To say goodbye. The unexpected loss, though, is a very different beast. I lost a resident this week. A funny, spunky and relatively healthy resident. A woman so full of humor and life that nothing could keep her down; the very definition of survivor.
“I didn’t see it coming. This makes no sense. I never saw it coming.” The thought looped through my head for the remaining seven hours left to my shift on the day I found out. It repeated so often through my mind, that by the end of the day, the words ceased to have any coherent meaning. It is the sort of loss that sucks all the air out of you. I saw my shell-shocked disbelief mirrored in the eyes of my fellow CNA’s and knew they were feeling the same way. But there was work to be done, and life on the floor does not stop for grief, unexpected loss or not.
The way we cope with such loss, as caregivers, is varied, individual and personal. Some hold onto gallows humor, some of the greener ones simply fall apart for awhile, some get angry. As for me, I find it best to stay busy. I compartmentalize, but I also make sure that those who are gone are remembered.
I didn’t see it coming. That means my residents didn’t see it coming either. If I am struggling with this, then so are they. It is through helping them accept and find peace with such a painful situation that I find peace and acceptance for myself.