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Sharp Health News

Making time to grieve

July 22, 2022

Chaplain Evan Neel of Sharp HospiceCare’s Spiritual Care Services

Chaplain Evan Neel, of Sharp HospiceCare’s Spiritual Care Services, shares a vase filled with colored sand. This vase is part of the celebration of life ceremonies that Spiritual Care Services holds to comfort grieving hospice staff members.

At some point in our lives, grief touches us all. Although tending to the needs of those who are actively dying is a part of the job for front-line staff, the grief that may arise from losing a patient is never routine. It can weigh heavily, especially for hospice aides.

Aides assist with hospice patients’ daily living and personal hygiene activities, such as dressing, feeding and other homelife duties. Sometimes, it is through these interactions that aides build close relationships with their patients.

“Our aides, like friends and family going through grief, also need support to deal with losing their patients,” says Trina Mojica, RN, a clinical supervisor at Sharp HospiceCare. “It can be hard to both do this kind of work and practice self-care. Aides may ask themselves, ‘How do I take care of myself and remain healthy and continue with this work?’”

A chance to reflect and celebrate
To support front-line staff, Mojica worked with counselors from Spiritual Care Services at Sharp HospiceCare to create “celebration of life” ceremonies that take place during monthly hospice aide meetings. “We decided at the beginning of these meetings to give our staff a chance to reflect and celebrate the lives of patients that have passed,” Mojica says.

The counselors may open a meeting with an uplifting story or quote to share with the aides. They may also introduce thoughtful and creative ways to encourage staff to explore healthy outlets for their grief.

One memorable example is from Chaplain Evan Neel, spiritual care counselor with Sharp HospiceCare, who facilitated a celebration of life ceremony with colored sands.

“He opened the monthly meeting with an empty glass vase,” Mojica says. “Beside the vase were containers of sand in different colors.”

Chaplain Neel asked the group if anyone would like to share something about a patient that touched their lives. After sharing their story, they would select the sand in a color that represented the patient and pour it into the glass vase.

“At the conclusion of the ceremony, stands this tall glass vase with beautifully layered colors of sand,” Mojica says. “This experience is very cathartic for the individual — it was honoring the patient or person you have lost.”

The healing value of shared remembrance and grief
Chaplain Neel finds value in the creative use of color to heal from grief. Being able to tap into different parts of our brain, even recalling something as simple as a color, can help people both remember and move forward, he says.

“For instance, the color pink can remind the bereaved of their mom going to the grocery store and finding her favorite pink frosting, and there is a story in that to share,” Chaplain Neel says. “Seeing how those stories being shared as people poured colors into the vase was a wonderful way to remember. And these memories, in a way, keep someone alive for us.”

Counselors have also used tea lights and other items to help create a special way for staff to remember and grieve.

“Having this time to come together and reflect as a team — there is great healing in that,” says Chaplain Neel. “It also reminds us that we are not alone. We can come together and grieve together.”

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