Death, dying and grief - managing your exposure

Nurses and midwives often 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 and lives of nurses and midwives it may take a toll on our emotional wellbeing and enjoyment of life.

If you would like a hand dealing with your feels or experiences relating to death, dying and grief call our confidential support line 24/7 on 1800 667 877.
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Nurses and midwives are confronted by grief frequently, sometimes even daily, but we commonly believe we should be able to “keep going” and remain detached. We are experts at showing empathy but don’t overly express emotion. We may feel unsure about when and how to show or share our emotions. In most circumstances, showing that you feel loss too is generally well accepted by clients and families.

There is broad research that confirms nurses and midwives grieve and can suffer trauma related to our work. However, we may not fully understand or recognize 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 and or until someone else notices, or intervenes.

Where to begin?

The first step to prevent this occurring is awareness and early intervention. Education, counselling, and an opportunity to debrief and share your grief can:

  • help to develop ‘learned’ resilience
  • prevent
    • burnout and compassion fatigue
    • vicarious trauma and
    • trauma-related incidents.

It is important to share how you are feeling. Speak to your manager, a trusted colleague or a person in your personal life. Call Nurse & Midwife Support — a member of our team is available to support you anytime.

Strategies and resources

Learning and practicing work-life balance, self-care strategies, and communication skills is vital for emotional and professional well-being and growth. 

Organisations use their own methods to recognize the need to grieve, including providing:

  • meditation areas
  • memory boards and remembrance ceremonies
  • debriefings and
  • astoral care.

Education on grief theories, compassion fatigue, end-of-life care, vicarious trauma and communication skills for nurses and midwives are also useful in equipping nurses and midwives to manage exposure to grief loss and trauma. 

Learning to cope

It may feel confronting and unsettling when you are learning how to express emotion and cope with dying and death. Understanding this reaction is natural and common is a good first step. Recognizing early how to cope with your feelings and reactions is a critical life skill and key component to your professional and emotional well-being

If the death of someone you have cared for or exposure to a traumatic event causes you to have prolonged negative feelings and emotions or physical changes, you may be experiencing vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress or burnout.

It is OK to ask for support. 

Our service provides free and confidential support 24/7, to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you would like to speak to someone call 1800 667 877, or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

What can I do next?
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