This March there was a completed suicide at my place of work. A young man a few years younger than Malcolm, and I hadn’t saved him. This event, coupled with the timing around Malcolm’s anniversary, sent me spiraling into the grief vortex.
I have chosen a profession where death is a daily occurrence and this recent depression made me question my choice. But the fact is most of the time I feel I make a positive contribution to the care of patients and families. Nonetheless, I have to work consistently at maintaining emotional boundaries, and there are some situations where I find myself triggered: the death of a young adult man, or when a man is sobbing at the bedside of a dying family member. Men’s tears, the sobbing body-wracked kind, move me incredibly. I want to comfort them. As I write this I realize that the only time in my life when I have witnessed a man’s profound, physical grief was watching my husband and my youngest son grieve for Malcolm.
Regardless of your chosen profession, when you have experienced a profound loss triggers are everywhere and daily living can seem like an emotional mine-field. It’s not just the special days like birthdays, anniversaries, vacation time, and religious holidays. It’s the daily news feed, the video clips on social media, Facebook “memories” that appear unbidden, and TV shows about families – the comedies as well as the dramas. And then there are the commercials: loving families, parents hugging their children – happiness, joy. When I first came to live in America I would get homesick and cry at the AT&T commercials, especially at Christmas time – lonely mothers waiting by the phone.
We can’t avoid all of these triggers, but we can make conscious choices to avoid the avoidable ones. I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse, so I choose to avoid Law and Order Special Victims Unit. But sometimes the theme of childhood abuse enters unexpectedly in TV shows and movies, and suicide and losing a child are sadly common themes.
I am trying to create better self-care. For one thing, I have promised my therapist that I will request coverage by another chaplain if a suicide attempt case surfaces at work. And I have to monitor my daily mood and provide myself with breaks at work. I tend to work through lunch and that needs to change. Today I am taking a break to write this blog post. To me that is a refreshing break, especially when coupled with mint tea.
My challenge to you is to examine your daily life and your calendar and identify potential triggers, then be proactive in creating emotional boundaries and providing yourself with support, breaks, healthy distractions, and self-nurturing.