By Emily Marge, MPS, NHPCO Veterans Services Specialist
Last year, I ventured into sharing my experience with my uncle's death due to suicide. I wrote my first NHPCO Updater blog post five months after his passing. I was afraid to be vulnerable but hoped that sharing my feelings might help me. The experience allowed me to be comfortable sharing something personal while examining how my professional life intertwines with my grief. The anniversary of his transition into the afterlife was in August. Our family laid him to rest in the National Veterans Cemetery in New York where he always wanted to be, alongside his fellow sisters and brothers who served. To this day, I can hear the echo of “Taps” playing at his funeral and think of him when I feel the stitches on the folded flag in his honor. The death of my uncle is a moment in my life which will forever be part of me, but it does not define me.
I know I'm not alone as someone who experienced grief from the passing of a loved one due to delayed internments, travel plans, and mandates from the pandemic. I suspect some of you have experienced this in your personal or professional life. If you have, know that you are not alone. While painful, grief can also bring us peace, but it can take years for us to accept that—I know I have yet to. However, I hope one day to be comfortable again around Veterans, who so often remind me of my uncle, without fear of emotions rising up like a tidal wave. Instead, I want to ride the wave with balance; even if I fall a few times, I will get back up again.
Many in the hospice community including patients, caregivers, staff, and family members, experience these waves of grief, getting back up only to soon be knocked down again by the next wave. When I find myself trying to get up—reaching for air—I work to remember positive moments and realize my uncle’s impact on this world. He may not have had children or married his sweetheart, but he created communities that still benefit from his actions today, even if they do not know his name. His legacy lives on not just through the work he did for fellow Veterans and friends, helping them back up when they got knocked down, but also through my sister and me. We both strive to honor his legacy by continuing to give back; even if we can impact just one person, we never know if or how the resulting ripple effect may touch others. This is how I will get back up from the wave that crashes down on the not-so-good days, knowing that I'm continuing his legacy of kindness.
If you’re looking for additional support, I recommend checking out the information on bereavement care offered by CaringInfo.org, a program of NHPCO. You might also check out NHPCO’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages for an ongoing conversation about TV series, podcasts, books, and movies that may help you talk about death and grief more openly in tandem with professional support. NHPCO has shared a variety of lists on death-or-grief related resources to consider engaging with, and our community members have left many more in the comments that have helped them and their loved ones.
If you’d like to take action to advance the crucial, ongoing work of bereavement care providers, and expand access to grief support across the nation, urge your Member of Congress to support the Grief Resilience Investment and Education Fund Act. I’ve done so and encourage you to do the same.
I want to be kind to myself and honor all forms of the word grief this holiday season. I hope you’ll join me.