I Don’t Want to Specialize in Grief

At work Monday afternoon, I learned I’d been selected to be on our hospital’s response team for infant death. I will need to become a “grief specialist”. I said I would do it, but I don’t want to. I am terrified.
 
Specializing in grief isn’t simply being present the day someone dies. In this case, it means sitting in the giant, hollow space left by the loss of a baby. It means having no answers. It means going into the darkest places with grieving parents and not leaving when it gets uncomfortable. It means going home exhausted because grief, even someone else’s, will wear you out.
 
Specializing in grief means not fixing the pain because I can’t. So I don’t get to try. Specializing in grief means coming into contact with my helplessness, with the fact that death is real and some day it will come for all of us. It means struggling to find meaning and purpose in the loss. It means living in the uncertainty of “Why?”
 
Specializing in grief means I will have to start as a student. As a novice. It means I will want to climb out of someone’s pain because it will be too much for me, but I will need to stay because it is my job. And it is what we must do for each other as fellow humans.
 
I don’t want to be a grief specialist for all these reasons, but the biggest one is, deep down, I am afraid I will have to become an expert on grief through personal experience.
 
Thankfully, I haven’t had many major losses in my life. During my teen years, two of my friends died in car accidents. One was a close friend, and I went through a dark season of depression and confusion when he died. My grandmother passed away three years ago, but other than that, I’ve never lost another close family member.
 
I don’t understand what it’s like to lose a parent, child or sibling. Other than these two losses, I am not acquainted with the gaping hole left behind by death. I don’t understand it. And most of me doesn’t want to.
 
But how can I specialize in grief from taking a few classes? Can I offer real empathy from book knowledge? I know my empathy will be limited from my lack of experience. 
 
Most of the time, when I learn something new, I want to dive in and experience the thing in order to understand it. Not this time. I don’t want to know grief, not up close. I want to hold it at an arm’s length. I want to define it, categorize it and be able to diagnose it. But I don’t want to know it.
 
I suppose I will be learning what this means. [Click for photo credit.]
I suppose I will be learning what this means. [Click for photo credit.]
 
To be honest, I hate grief. I avoid sadness. I hate how my heart feels when it’s breaking. I know they are simply responses to tragedy, but I don’t want to go there. I live in the United States. We have options. We can turn the channel.
 
Like most of my neighbors, I prefer happy comfortability. I inoculate myself against pain with chocolate, busyness and sleep. I can only handle loss, my own and other people’s, in small doses. And until now, that was all that was required of me.
 
So why did I sign up for this?
 
I want to help families. I want to be the best at supporting parents. I already advocate for birth mothers when they place their babies for adoption. My husband and I provide premarital and marital counseling for couples. I recently got certified as a parenting instructor. I helped start a monthly event to gently launch new mothers into strong physical and mental health. 
 
So why not help in situations of grief? Why not go all the way in for families?  
 
This morning when I arrived at work, I told myself I wanted to be a specialist in assisting families to become healthy and whole. Three hours later, I learned I’d been selected to be on the response team to support parents after the loss of their baby. Surely my previous commitment to be a support in every possible way for parents and families was not coincidental.
 
Perhaps I’ve avoided grief and loss long enough. Perhaps its time to take my place alongside humanity in this inevitable season of death or in this case, the unspeakable tragedy of a life gone too soon.
 
Perhaps it’s my turn to do for others what I wanted done for me when my friend died: be present, don’t try to fix it, don’t leave too soon, push through the discomfort and just be.
 
And maybe I will find that being a Grief Specialist simply means living fully human, fully alive, with the ones who are left.
 

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2 thoughts on “I Don’t Want to Specialize in Grief

  1. Great post. Grief is rough and messy work for sure, but you are going to be such an encouragement to others.

    Not to throw another book at you, but Jonalyn Fincher has a new book about grief, Invitation to Tears, that might be helpful!

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Brenda. Grief is so messy. It’s just so heavy and contagious, somehow. I appreciate the book recommendation – I will need guidance.

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