Chapter 1: Grief responses to suffering and death

Personal connections

The paramedic says
Tristan talks about how personal connections to a call can create challenges during and after the call. (3:22)Video transcript

It was a rough month. It seemed every call was someone I knew. First, I was called out to my buddy’s wife’s death, then Uncle Gerry.- Canadian paramedic

Friends and family

The existence of a pre-existing personal connection may be more frequent in some settings. In rural areas, you may have a longstanding relationship with a patient or family. You may be related or good friends, go to the same church, or play basketball together.

After the death, you may see the family in the day-to-day course of life. Depending on the outcome and the family’s expectations, this may be comforting or stressful.

Relationships developed through frequent calls

In community paramedic teams, closeness can develop when there have been several contacts with the patient and family before death. Over a series of calls, you may have come to know and connect with them in meaningful ways. Perhaps you identify with the patient or family members in some way. Perhaps they’re of a similar age, have a similar role in the family, or share a common interest or experience. You may simply have enjoyed seeing that person and felt your life enriched by knowing them.

Very real feelings of grief can occur when someone you feel close to dies – because you knew them personally before your work relationship or because a bond developed through your palliative calls.

Recognizing the connection

If you choose, you can acknowledge this connection in various ways.

  • Attend the funeral.

  • Send a condolence card to the family.

  • Light a candle in memory.

  • Take a moment to reflect on that person’s impact on you.

  • Journal what was special or what you most enjoyed.
  • Think of other ways to honour the person's memory.

Reflective exercise

The death of a patient and the end of contact with the family doesn’t necessarily mean a paramedic immediately stops thinking about them. Thoughts may naturally surface in the days and weeks that follow then generally diminish over time. These thoughts provide useful opportunities to reflect on what the patient and family meant to you, or on things you learned through working with them.  Understanding why this particular situation is stuck in your mind can be helpful. These questions may enhance deeper reflection: 

What about this person or event do you find particularly puzzling, upsetting or important? 

What do you think your preoccupation or discomfort with this situation means? [Can you identify the source of your preoccupation or discomfort with this situation?} 

If there’s a lesson to learn from this person or event, what might it be? 

Excessive, preoccupying or troubling thoughts may warrant further exploration with a trusted person or professional.