Death, Dying and Grief – through a pandemic and beyond

Mark Aitken
Welcome to the Autumn 2020 Edition of the Nurse & Midwife Support newsletter.

In this edition we look at the complexities of dealing with death, dying and grief, an intrinsic part of being a nurse and midwife. This subject may feel more raw than usual as we deal with ongoing widespread drought, the fallout of this summer’s bushfires, and now we find ourselves in the grip of a pandemic.

male nurse working in a hospital

Is this the right time for a newsletter?

This edition has been planned for over 12 months. In light of the current situation we seriously considered whether to defer it until another time. Collectively, we are already experiencing grief and expect that harder times are to come. We didn’t want to place additional stress on a group that are already shouldering quite a burden.

However, putting out new resources that may help even one nurse or midwife deal with this complex issue — during a very high stress period — felt like the right thing to do. If we can give any of you additional resilience to work through this, without relying on unhelpful coping strategies, all of us will be in a better place. After all, healthy nurses and midwives mean better outcomes for patients.

So after careful deliberation we came to the decision that this edition was more important now than ever.

We hope that you find this newsletter really helpful and want to remind you all that we are here to help support you. It’s always a good time to call us — after any shift, on a bad day, even just to hear a voice that understands what you are going through. Call us 1800 667 877.

If you aren’t ready

If it doesn’t feel like the information in this newsletter would be helpful for you at the moment, please don’t read it. Take some time away and do other things that bring you joy. When you are ready we will still be here. In fact, we recommend you also do this with social media and the news as well. If it is making you feel more stressed, take a rest from it.

Asking for support as a carer

Already this year I have heard story after story of the capacity of people to pick themselves up and keep going, which is an incredible testament to the strength of our communities. At the same time, we need to recognise how important it is not only to offer support but to ask for it too.

Nurses and midwives care for others when they are at their most vulnerable, and care for those who are dying. We bear witness to death and support those who are grieving. We often do this on the back of our own experiences of death, loss and grief. Mostly, we manage the emotions we experience, but at times it can feel like we are overloaded by death and grief. We might feel that we are running on empty and need a moment to replenish and self-soothe — but on we go, because we have another person to care for and support.

Grieving with our patients and their families

Nurses and midwives play a pivotal role in supporting people when they are dying. We are intimately involved with their grief and death, and the grief of their loved ones, sometimes in sudden or traumatic circumstances. While this is part of the work of nurses and midwives it may take a toll on our emotional wellbeing and enjoyment of life.

There is research that confirms nurses and midwives grieve for those who they care for who have died. However, we may not fully understand or recognise our emotional responses, particularly if we are fatigued or stressed. Many nurses and midwives tell us they feel unprepared or unequipped to manage their reactions. It is common for nurses or midwives to not seek support and “push through” until a distressing psychological issue emerges or until someone else notices and intervenes. 

Taking the first step

The first step to prevent this occurring is awareness and early intervention. Awareness of the risks and support available aids resilience and reduces the risk of burnout and compassion fatigue. Work-life balance, self-care strategies, and communication skills are vital for emotional and professional well-being and growth. Now, more than ever we encourage you to take the time to prioritise these strategies.

If you would like to know more, or are concerned about your feelings, you can call our confidential support line 24/7 on 1800 667 877 or access our website resources.

It’s Ok to ask for support — indeed, it is vital. Your health matters.

Mark Aitken RN
Stakeholder Engagement Manager
Nurse & Midwife Support