by Charlene Thurston,RN,ANP,Hospice Director,from the Spring 1996 Hospice Currents Newsletter
This has been a sad and emotional winter for many of the Nantucket community, due to the loss of so many well loved and respected friends,who died while still in the most vital and productive years of life.In such a small community, when several deaths occur within a short period of time, the impact can be very poignant, and can lead to reactions of compounded grief. Understanding some of the common reactions to such losses can provide reassurance that your experiences are probably normal under such circumstances.

Grief affects us at every level of our being-physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually and spiritually. It is a natural and normal response to loss, and can last for a long period of time, depending on how closely we were attached to the person or thing that we’ve lost, and on how much we’ve allowed ourselves to face and work through that loss.

After multiple losses, people often feel rather shell-shocked and vulnerable, sometimes wondering who will be next, too aware that they too can be touched. Feelings of sadness, fear, anger, and numbness are common, as are disrupted thinking and concentration and social withdrawal. Moreover, new losses often cause issues associated with past losses to resurface, and we may be faced with grieving those losses as well.

As with most painful experiences, positive results can also occur. The emotional distress that we feel when a friend dies opens our hearts to reach out to one another with compassion, and helps us to connect with one another authentically- heart to heart- the way we always should, but often don’t. Also, after a loss, we’re moved to step back and reflect on priorities and values we’ve set in our own lives, and we’re presented with the opportunity to reorganize them in ways that would give our lives more meaning.

In order to help ourselves through grief, healthy strategies for coping with all kinds of stress are most beneficial. Talking things through with a trusted person who can listen; taking some time alone, balanced with some time with others; connecting with nature, and other sources of spiritual strength; getting enough rest and nourishment; exercising to improve our level of wellness and decrease tension stored in the body; practicing relaxation techniques which decrease stress; being kind to ourselves and others; using journaling, artistic media, movement to express emotions and/or to connect with our creativity; being playful and using humor; not escaping through self-destructive means such as alcohol or other drugs.

In many ways the sadness of this past winter left our community with many gifts. By bringing people together to share their sadness and to provide friendship and support to the patients and families who were touched with illness and death, it highlighted the very best Nantucket has to offer-its very special people. There could have been no more poignant demonstration of Nantucket’s very special kind of caring than the outpouring of individuals who came out to help, when given the opportunity that could save the life of a young man with leukemia. This is indeed a very special community, and it has been a privilege for us in Hospice to have participated in serving its people during this time.

Funded by the Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket Foundation, the Palliative & Supportive Care Program is operated as a department of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, which is an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital, and a member of Partners HealthCare. Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket is a specialized health care program dedicated to providing excellent physical, psychological, social, and spiritual care to persons with life-threatening illness and their families.

A Partnership in Caring

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