As Senior Living Caregivers and Chaplains, we often provide support for the residents and family members we serve. We provide a listening ear, empathetic support, and perhaps accompany them to the presence of God through prayer. But what about us? What happens when we experience loss? It is different when grief intrudes our lives–it becomes personal. How then, can we best manage our own grief?
I’ve been a professional chaplain, a bereavement coordinator, and a counselor for healthcare professionals for over 35 years. Through focused education and experience, I have had the opportunity to help many clients, families, and colleagues navigate through the dying, death, & bereavement processes. However, I have found that no matter how knowledgeable, understanding, and supportive I may be when helping others, it is dramatically different when grief invades my own world.
This became abundantly clear when my mother died after a short illness. After she drew her last breath and I was driving home from the hospital, I had to pull over to the side of the road and allow the emotions to flow. I hadn’t experienced the deep pain and anguish of grief in this way for quite some time. I felt lost, unprepared, and unwilling to begin that journey. Though I had focused my professional life on providing support for others in their grief, I felt helpless–totally unarmed to help myself.
At that moment I decided to take my own advice. I took out my phone and called a friend, a bereavement colleague, from right there in my car. It was extremely helpful to open up and share my pain with a trusted colleague who was able to empathetically listen, understand, and provide support.
Don’t try to “go it alone.” Take the red “S” off your chest. Whether you call a colleague, EAP, or confide with your chaplain, take your own advice and talk with someone about the significance of your loss and the pain you are experiencing. You’ll be glad you did.
You can also talk with God. He knows grief and heartache, firsthand. He loves you and wants to wrap His arms around you and whisper in your ear, “I’ve got you. It’s going to be okay.” He says to each of us, “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look around you, for I AM your God. I will strengthen you; surely, I will help you; surely, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Ralph Plumley is an Executive Director of Operations for Marketplace Chaplains where he serves as a mentor to chaplains and oversees the staff-care benefit they provide to companies and organizations in the greater Philadelphia area. With a background in hospital chaplaincy, funeral home bereavement services, and hospice care, Ralph has over 35 years’ experience assisting families and professionals when a death occurs. He is a graduate of Philadelphia Biblical University (now Carin University) and Dallas Theological Seminary with a Master of Theology Degree. He is Ordained by the Baptist General Conference, Certified in Thanatology: Dying, Death, and Bereavement by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), and a Certified Funeral Celebrant. He has received & provided extensive training in Critical Incident Stress Management, and suicide intervention. He has served as President of the Delaware End-of-Life Coalition, on the Board of Directors of Supporting Kidds: The Center for Grieving Children & Their Families, and committee chair for ADEC. Ralph has authored several CareNotes published by Abbey Press for teens, adults, and professional care givers. He has been asked to speak locally and nationally on various topics related to dying, death, Critical Incident Stress Management, loss, & grief. Ralph and his wife have been married for 39 years. They have four children and four grandchildren, so far.
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