One of the questions I am asked often, is whether I experience my own grief while watching others anticipate and go through their own. The answer is yes. I think any human being watching someone else navigate the realities of losing someone they love, feels something. Perhaps it is not always grief, however at least for me, it brings up feelings that remind me of my own personal losses.
Anytime I witness someone at the bedside of their parent, I ache a little inside. I am envious of their relationship because I didn't have that. When both of my parents died, I was across the room from them with absolutely no idea what to do, what to say, or how to feel.
When I witness someone saying goodbye to their sibling, I often struggle with holding back my tears because I am reminded repeatedly how deeply I ache from losing my sister and my brother. But the truth is, anytime I am with someone who is having to say goodbye, I feel something, and I always take it with me when I leave.
How do I process that? It has taken me some time to design a ritual that I have been able to incorporate into my daily practice of self-care, so that I too can work through whatever I feel after I see someone die.
You might have heard me talk about my grief bowl before. It has become my immediate go-to when I walk through my door at the end of a day after witnessing people saying goodbye to someone they love. Sometimes this could happen two or three times in a day, which can weigh incredibly heavy. I have learned that if I do not take the time to process it that day, the following day the weight will be heavier. This is not something you can put off for another day, that isn't healthy or productive and I learned that the hard way.
My bowl contains hearts of all different kinds, metal, glass, crystal, clay, wood, and pewter. Each one is special in that it was gifted to me. When I come home from a difficult day, I take my bowl and I empty all my hearts on the table. I think about the people I was with, the last breaths that were taken, the way it made me feel, the ache and pain I felt in the room, and I also think about the love that was felt, because in most cases it is big. I take each heart, one at a time, and I think about my lessons as well as my own emotions, and I send each person extra healing, and comfort, and I honor myself with the same, because I deserve it too and it has taken me a long time to realize that.
And if I do this, the weight is less. Self-care is mandatory, in general, but especially in the work that I do. Anyone who sits at the bedside of someone who is dying, comforts people who are saying goodbye, or holds space for anyone that might be struggling with grief, needs to be cared for well. And if you can create a routine, or a special ritual or ceremony that honors your physical and emotional reaction to loss, you will be far more able to do it again, and in my case, again, and again, and again.
For me it is my grief bowl... it is the ritual that comforts me, supports me, and allows me to do this work, day after day.
Whether you work in end-of-life care or you are trying to navigate your own loss and are grieving, please be kind to yourself. Honor your heart and your body, you deserve that tenderness.