What I learned from leaning into loss

March 3, 2023, Counseling & Support

What I learned from leaning into loss

“Grief and gratitude are two sides of the same coin.” These are the words shared by a family member of a hospice patient who I visited at the end of life. This insight came at the conclusion of a beautiful experience of family togetherness, where all present relations were given the opportunity to share their favorite memories and express their love and appreciation for this person.

In this moment of simultaneous sadness and joy, they reflected on the ways their loved one had guided their lives and forged a family bond through an emphasis on kindness, humor and acceptance. I have come back to these words as a touchtone that guides both my grief support work at Gilchrist and my own project of mourning.

As an intern with Gilchrist’s bereavement team and as a student working toward my master’s degree in social work at the University of Maryland, I am tasked with supporting bereaved hospice families and community members alike. This support takes the form of individual counseling, facilitating support groups, providing workshops and reaching out to family members after the death of hospice patients.

While some may expect this work to be grim, my experience testifies to the opposite. This work is filled with so much love. Though everyone’s grief journey is their own, there is a common undercurrent of love. The grief, pain, anger and sadness all result from the wound of a sundered love, the loss of a person who we shared our lives with and who knew us in ways unique to them.

My Experience

Graeme Thistlewaite

Through my experience with this work at Gilchrist, I have learned that this love gives meaning and shape to our lives and that grief is the cost of this gift.

The work I have been honored to share in during the past six months with the bereavement support team is not grim but beautiful. When I speak with bereaved, I share not only their sadness but their joy. I invite them to tell me the of their family members and reflect on how their own lives are forever connected to those they’ve lost. Each session can be a monument, a memorial, a love letter, a confession, or a conversation, and every one of them reveals the traces of those we’ve loved.

I am grateful for the opportunity to support clients in their experiences of grief and witness the legacy of those they’ve lost.

Graeme Thistlewaite, the author of this article, is a graduate student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and an intern with Gilchrist’s bereavement team.

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