Join the journey of a fairly recently graduated MSW social worker, navigating the expanse of hospice social work in the south, the ups and downs of graduate school, LCSW exam stress and excitement, and preparing for a future in macro social work practice

Monday, May 10, 2010


I think I want to name my firstborn daughter Elisabeth. Not after me (my middle name is Elizabeth, and I very commonly go by Liz), or the several dozen people I know with that name, but after Elisabeth Kubler Ross. I just finished "On Death and Dying" and that experience has changed the way that I feel about the grieving process.

All people experience loss in their lives. Only a small number of the losses we experience are related to death. More commonly we experience loss of a relationship, loss of a job, loss of an expectation, loss of a friendship, loss of innocence, or loss of trust. It is unfortunate that we are conditioned to only grieve loss when it comes to us in the form of physical death. As a result, a lot of the losses we feel are not mourned in a healthy way.

Today, I conducted a volunteer support meeting for our wonderful hospice volunteers. Hospice in our area was once a very strong program, but in the last few years it has dwindled into a very small organization. Many people don't even realize we exist. As I spoke to the volunteers, who have been with this program through to good times and the bad ones, tears were shed as they spoke of the program they once knew. They are mourning the loss of hospice they once knew. As a way of moving forward, they are sticking with the program while we continue in our "building" phase.

We have all experienced loss in our lives. I am finally beginning to understand that we are allowed to feel loss regardless of how insignificant the experience seems to others. I remember a time last year when I was feeling down. I remember wishing more than anything that something outwardly painful would actually happen so I could have an excuse for feeling the way I felt. I think that might be why depressed people resort to cutting, and maybe it's why somatoform disorders exist.

But back to my starting point. I hope that I can learn how to truly grieve when faced with losses. I hate comparing challenges among people. Some of the most unintentionally hurtful comments I've ever been on the receiving end of have come from people who assume that because I choose not to talk about it, I don't know what it is like to feel pain. I imagine I'm not alone in that. I may not have dealt with the death of a loved one, but I know what pain feels like. I know what it is like to lose friends, family members, innocence, faith, trust, and even jobs. To me, some of those losses feel even more painful than death, because at least death offers an element of closure. I know how to experience pain. What I am still learning is how to grieve those losses, and give those experiences the validity they deserve.

So how? How do we validate our grief, our losses, and our individual bereavement without letting them consume us? That, once again, is always the question.

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