Tending to and witnessing the grief of others is part of the role we play as first responders. If we’re lucky in our careers, we’ll have the opportunity to learn from great mentors that teach compassion and how to be empathetic while providing exceptional care. After losing my mom this year, I have been giving thought to what happens to first responders when we experience profound loss and grief in our own lives? Does having a personal experience with grief make us better providers? How does this paradigm shift effect us?
My recent experience with loss has made me aware of my lack of wisdom when it comes to bereavement. Like many, I have experienced loss in the past. I have lost my dog as well as my best friend, and while painful and sad, these losses were no match for the heartache felt when I lost my mom. Grief doesn’t feel like you think it’s going to feel. Many are wildly inept at dealing with or expressing what they are feeling when challenged with grief. Some of us, especially those that haven’t experienced the loss of a loved one, have the misconception that their life will be back on track a week later. Grief doesn’t work that way.
As I emerge from this experience, I find myself softer, humbler, and more grounded than ever. For me, this experience has solidified that providing exceptional healthcare is so much more than training, applied knowledge, and response times. It’s being vulnerable and showing our patients empathy, compassion, and kindness. I was inspired and comforted by the courageous vulnerability many of the nurses, medics, and doctors openly displayed while caring for my mom. I am sincerely grateful for their teachings.
Our own personal tragedies can make us better. For me, there is a silver lining in experiencing personal loss. I’ve gained a better understanding of those facing a personal hardship of their own. I am less inclined to hide my humanity both in and out of uniform. It takes courage to truly listen and help others when they are in need. I realize that throughout my career I wasn’t always courageous with my emotions. Looking back, I believe I viewed emotional vulnerability as a weakness, therefore, my tears were rarely seen, and if they came they were shed conveniently in the privacy of my ambulance while grabbing a piece of equipment. Now I understand how important it is to allow your humanity to be seen. Personally, my mother’s departure clarified a lot things for me. It highlighted how limited our time is here on earth and solidified my belief that we are all here to help one another. I look forward to carrying on her legacy professionally by helping patients and mentoring those who are wanting to pursue a career in emergency medical services.