Grief: Coping with Loss While on Assignment

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By Ariel and Oscar - That Travel Nurse Couple

November 8, 2022

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Coping with Loss While on Assignment

It’s no secret that leaving the comforts of home, family, and loved ones for travel assignments across the country is no easy feat. I think so many people have this preconceived notion that travel nursing is easy, but in reality, being away from all the things we hold so dear can truly have a huge impact on the way we function in our day-to-day lives. What can make these moments even more difficult is having to deal with the loss of loved ones while traveling on assignment.

This month marks 1 year since I (Ariel) unexpectedly lost my father. I’ve debated writing about this topic, but I think, despite how difficult it may be, it could help someone else who may be walking along that same bumpy road I call grief.

Since it’s been about a year, I’ve learned a thing or two about grief and coping with loss. I hope if anyone reading finds themselves in this incredibly difficult situation, these words will bring you comfort and help you along your healing journey.

grief

Forgive yourself

First and foremost, you have to forgive yourself. I spent many months feeling guilty for not being home when my dad passed away. I was half a country away when I got the call, and I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it felt to be so far away from home in such a life-altering moment. I spent the next day flying home, trying my hardest (unsuccessfully mostly) to hold back the tears. It’s not like you ever know how these moments in your life are going to go, but I had to do a lot of work in the following months to just forgive myself and not feel guilty. I felt guilty for many things, but mostly for not being home.

I came to find that these feelings of guilt were normal in the coping process, but only to a certain extent. I allowed myself to feel those feelings but learned I couldn’t let myself stay there for long. You have to forgive yourself in order to move on. Loss is hard enough as it is, don’t make it harder by blaming yourself for things you can’t change. Remember, your loved one wouldn’t want you to hold on to those feelings of guilt either.

Take as much time as you need

Every time I think about the months after my father’s passing, I feel so thankful that I was able to take as much time off of work as I did. We had to end our contract at the time a couple of weeks earlier than originally planned and flew home without a return ticket. I know this isn’t realistic for everyone’s situation, but if it’s possible for you, do it. The freedom travel nursing has given us made it possible to take the time I needed to process my grief.

I will be honest, in the early weeks after his passing, the thought of going back to work and seeing patients who reminded me of my dad really made me doubt if I was ready to go back to work. I gave myself the time I needed until I felt ready, and I am so thankful that I did. I’ve said this before, and I will say it again, but nurses are notorious for putting ourselves last. This was the first time in a long time I decided to put myself first, and I think it was the best thing I could’ve done for myself and my mental health. If you ever find yourself in this situation or something similar, please remember that it’s okay to take all the time you need. It doesn’t make you selfish, lazy, or anything other than someone grieving the loss of someone special. You can’t take care of others if you haven’t taken care of yourself first.

Surround yourself with support

This is a huge one and something that I didn’t realize I needed until I did. When you’re going through something as devastating as a loss, you oftentimes feel very alone. While your best friends and family may not always know exactly what you’re feeling or going through, their support is essential in your healing.

Lean on them, and don’t feel guilty about that, either. If they offer you a hand, take it. It may even be a good idea to consider taking travel assignments close to home or close to your support system in the months after experiencing your loss. Remember that you will have days when you may feel totally alone with your grief, but you aren’t.

Therapy is not just for when things get bad. I think there’s a common misconception about when to go to therapy; it seems a lot of people think therapy is a reactive intervention rather than a proactive one. Therapy can be a fantastic tool all the time, but especially after experiencing a loss.

When you are on assignment, it can seem hard to prioritize mental health. However, nowadays, there are so many easy ways you can speak to professionals via video chats, phone calls, or even over text. I’ve personally used BetterHelp for a long time but found it especially helpful after my dad’s passing. It helped to gain some outside perspective, and it was also nice to have sessions in the comfort of my own space. Consider therapy, too, if you have experienced a loss. Even if you feel you are processing your emotions and grief appropriately, it doesn’t hurt to talk to professionals too.

Trust the process

Know that grief is not a linear process. For some ridiculous reason, I was under the impression that grief went from one stage to the next in a step-by-step fashion. I learned pretty early on that this was absolutely not the case. I found myself going in and out of all stages of grief many times, sometimes multiple times in one day. I still have good days and bad days even now, a year later.

The sooner I learned to trust the process and just let my feelings flow, the easier it became to process my grief. I also learned that there’s really no “end” to a loss. You won’t ever reach a point where you can say, “Yep, I’m all fixed and healed now!” That’s not to say that things don’t get better, but rather, it’s a new reality that you learn to live with.

Loss is truly one of the hardest things, if not the hardest thing, we have to go through as human beings. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, and it’s moments when life doesn’t feel fair or real. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that we will all experience loss. We see it as nurses, and we will deal with it as human beings. I wish there was a magic potion or special recipe we could make that would ease the pain that comes with loss, but the truth is time, patience, love, and forgiveness are your best friends during these difficult times.

It can be really hard, but remember, your loved one wants you to be happy. They want you to live your life to its fullest and not spend your time living in sadness and regret. Honor them by being happy and trusting that you carry them with you everywhere you go.

Lastly, I will leave you with a quote that has helped me a lot throughout my healing journey when I felt as though my grief was too much, and I saw it as a negative thing.

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot…Grief is just love with no place to go.”

-Jamie Anderson

We will all face grief at some point in our lives. But how do you cope with loss while on assignment? Ariel has some advice. Read it here.

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