Grief is a natural reaction to loss, and in the practice of medicine we're routinely faced with loss. Most of us who have gone through clerkship during medical training can remember the first time we encountered death in a direct way as part of a healthcare team. For Colin, it was the death of a child to cancer; for Sara, it was the death of the mother of a newborn child. Not expected deaths, but even the so-called expected deaths are jarring when you're a brand new part of a medical team delivering care. We both remember the feelings of fear and sadness that had no where to go except deep inside as there were more patients to see, work to do and expectations to fulfill.
So where does this grief go? In a very recent BMJ article, Should Doctors Cry at Work?, the author says: "Probably still more doctors have done so but been unwilling to admit it for fear that it could be considered unprofessional - a sign of weakness, lack of control, or incompetence." Fortunately, much of the responses to this article pointed to physicians saying they have, and do, cry at work as a normal reaction to human suffering and loss. Perhaps the question should be do physicians have a safe space at work to process their emotions?
Many of you may remember a photo that went 'viral' a couple of years ago of an ER physician crouched down outside, grieving the death of a young patient. This image is so relatable and the public nature of it speaks to the lack of support around grief many healthcare professionals feel.
Being able to grieve can lead to so much of what we desire and need to heal on the other side of it. Gratitude, joy, clarity, compassion, and much more. Estelle Thomson speaks about her grief after losing her child on the Sickboy podcast and brings this process to life in a short CBC documentary Tommy Tinker Forever: A Mother's Journey of Grief and Love. It would impossible to not see the healing power of grief after watching it.
Ultimately, unprocessed grief is not benign. Loss is inevitable. Emotions are necessary. Loss is part of the job of being a physician and part of the deal of being a human. We all need the space to grieve.
"Don’t run away from grief, o soul,
Look for the remedy inside the pain,
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone." ~ Rumi