Normal: Death, Grief, and You
By Caciona “Cici” R. Bernstrom, LSW, LMSW, Genesis Hospice: Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House
Death Is Normal
That’s right, normal. Death is everywhere, in every aspect of our lives; however, we label it other things. We call it many things, yet the thing we rarely call it is normal. I have a surprise for you: we will all face death; death of our dearest loved ones, death of people we haven’t thought of in thirty years, and the death of our pets and celebrities we have never met.
Grief for all of these is normal because death is normal. Normalization of death and grief can be emotionally uncomfortable, yet a beneficial way for us to be empowered to better accept, promote, and understand a normal dying and grieving process.
Death used to be part of our daily lives. One hundred years ago, access to institutionalized medical care was scant and you were cared for by your family in your home--back when the doctor saw you from birth until death in your home. When you died, your family cared for your body, dug your grave, and lived every second of your end-of-life journey with you.
Then the Civil War happened, and for many people the personal care of the dying and dead shifted out of the family’s hands. Some 150 years later, for many people, any level of intimacy with the dying process or death is foreign and terrifying.
Thankfully, ideas about dying and the dying process are starting to shift again. As the Social Worker at our Genesis Hospice, Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House, I am honored to be a part of this movement and help people reclaim the normalcy of death and grief.
The Normalcy of Death and Grief
As part of the above mentioned shift, society has largely guided people away from participating in caring for their loved ones at the end of their lives. With the scientific breakthroughs that have accompanied the last century, we have hidden death behind hospital doors and assumed that loved ones were not able to emotionally handle the endeavor of caring for their dying.
At our hospice house, we offer an opportunity for patients and families to gather together and participate in care as much as possible. This can include being with a person during their last weeks, days, hours, and minutes. It can include washing, dressing, anointing, and openly grieving with their loved one. This also includes much education for family members and the dying themselves about how normal death is, what the symptoms of dying are, and how truly good it is to be present and attentive during a person’s final days and once they have departed their body.
The Death and Grief Normativity Movement Is...
Another part of the death and grief normativity movement is acknowledging that grief can look like many things, and that we do not do a good job of allowing people to grieve openly. At the hospice house, we continually work at creating a safe space for people to verbalize their grief in whichever ways most beneficial for them.
We validate everyone’s grief in this building. There is no wrong emotion. Cry, wail, scream, lean on us, curse, or sit in the silence. Whatever you need to say to move through your grief process is valid and necessary--not in the way society says you should, not in the way that is most comfortable for others, but in the way that makes sense and is helpful to you.
This is all part of the re-normalization of grief and the holistic patient-centered care we provide here at Genesis Hospice and at our Grief Support Cooperative. As your life progresses inevitably towards an increasing number of significant losses, you may come to need our services. If it is your life journey to come to us, know we are honored to serve you. You are surrounded by love and you are normal.