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  • Linnea Maki & Sherree Lane

Professional Grief

This has been a tough few months for our family at Park River. The loss of so many of our residents weighs greatly on all of our hearts. In the last month, we have had to say goodbye to 12 of our long term care residents. 12 residents that were loved by their caregivers. We truly mean it when we say that our residents here are family to us.

Our Director of Finance, Marti Bullock, started what we call "Respects." When there is an overhead call for "all available staff and residents to the front" that means that it's time to say our last goodbye. Staff and residents stand through the hall of the front lobby as our resident and their family members leave our home for the last time.

It is such an emotional moment. Rarely is there a dry eye. I know I'm not in this alone when I say that there have been many times I have needed to compose myself in the privacy of my office. This was a really heartfelt idea that Marti had and is a meaningful way for us all to say our last goodbye.

It doesn't matter how many years you work in this will never get easier to say goodbye because you never stop loving the residents that you care for. Being a caregiver isn't a job for everyone. It's a job some of us earn.

Our Chaplain, Sherree Lane, is not only experienced in caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of our residents and their families, she is also experienced in caring for us caregivers. Out of concern for the well being of our team during the last few months, she wanted me to post this article for everyone to read.

Staff Deals with Loss & Grief

We are fortunate at Park River Estates Care Center to have compassionate staff members serving our residents. Many staff members have served here for multiple years. They wouldn’t continue to work in this field if they did not care for the residents. Often, we accept this role in life because we feel we are making a difference in people’s lives. We are present with them and for them in their time of need.

As a result, staff members acutely feel the losses of our residents when they die. This work environment is called a “High Loss Work Environment.” Because every loss means a certain level of grief and grief takes some time to work through, these challenges exist for staff members in this environment.

Multiple Deaths

When we experience multiple deaths in a short time, we experience accumulative grief. One hardly has time to grieve a resident loss before another one passes. This is called Bereavement Overload. Staff grief, however, differs from family grief, because staff grief is more hidden. It is called “professional grief.” Staff members’ grief must be tempered because of the requirements and expectations of the work. And if grief is not expressed in appropriate ways, it will come out in other ways down the road.

Sometimes we think as staff members we would get used to seeing death and dying around us. But that is not the case. And thrown into the mix of our grief is our need to help other residents deal with their own grief of losing a friend.


For professional grievers, we need to work on how we cope with the losses. Perhaps you are trying to find the right blend of compassion while protecting yourself from too much hurt.

If you notice these symptoms, please find a counselor to talk with. Remember, the house chaplain or a hospice chaplain is available to listen and provide support.

If you notice:

--Decrease in your tolerance or sensitivity

--You are becoming overly cynical

--You are experiencing stress reactions

--You are finding it difficult to maintain hope

So monitor yourself; and remember stress relief actions can help such as talking/going to dinner with a friend, engaging in an activity that refreshes you, taking a walk, going to a spiritual activity. If the stress is overwhelming, seek a professional.

Remember, working in a high loss work environment can also be extremely rewarding. As C. Murray Parkes, one of the foremost experts in bereavement has noted:

“With proper training and support, we shall find that repeated griefs, far from undermining our humanity and care, enable us to cope more confidently and more sensitively with each succeeding loss”

(Parkes, CM. “Orienteering the caregiver’s grief.” Journal of Palliative Care, 1986; 1:5-7.)

Clark, Elizabeth J. “Understanding Professional Grief.” Grief and Loss, 2006.

+Chaplain Sherree Lane

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