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  • Writer's picture Gabrielle Elise Jimenez

The Safe Place

I was asked some really good questions the other day…

“Gabby, how do you keep it together when families are grieving? Do you ever break down and cry? And how do you handle it if you get close to them, what do you do with your sadness?”


I could lie and tell you that I keep it totally together, that I am strong and do not show my emotions, and that I leave their home, get in my car, and go on with my day as though this was normal, and I am not affected by it. But that would be a lie.


We know not to get attached, but we get attached.  Whether I am with a patient or their family members for an hour, a day, several days, or longer, doesn’t matter. The moment I say that first hello, I immediately let my protective walls come down, because I need them to know I am human, and I feel their pain, and I understand how hard this is for all of them.

I never want to make this a business transaction.

I never want them to think they are one of many and not unique or special.

I never want them to think that I do not feel their sadness.

I want to meet them where they are, giving them permission to feel and say whatever they need to, and to not hold back their emotional reaction to all of it because I am there.

I want to be the safe place for them.


I do cry. Often.

And sometimes I am triggered by what they are going through, and I am taken back in time to an experience I had, which reminds me of the person I said goodbye to. Sometimes, I witness deep love and sadness for someone saying goodbye to their parent, and I am envious that I did not experience what they are. I wish I could go back and do things differently, and each time I witness that, I am reminded that I can’t.


I know in my heart that the minute I stop having an emotional reaction to a last breath and the grief that follows it, I am not meant to continue doing this work. I hope that time never comes. What I have learned to do is sit with them, hold them gently, and be present for whatever they need. And when it is time for me to go, I will often carry some of their pain with me when I walk out the door, but I do not allow it to spill into me. Instead, I carry it outside, I find a tree, or a plant, or a flower and I water it with the grief, knowing that it can hold it for them and still remain beautiful. If I allowed it to spill into me, it would break me down and I cannot afford to let that happen. I learned that the hard way.


This work is not easy, but it is beautiful. One thing that is very important is that we honor ourselves as much as we honor those who are dying, and those who say goodbye. If we do that, we can walk away from them knowing we offered them a safe place, and gave as much as we could, but we did not give everything… we saved some for ourselves and some for the next people we have the honor of being with.



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