By Dawn L. Miller MHA, CRA, RT(R)(M)(CT), RDMS, RVT
I want to talk to you about a difficult but personal subject. Child loss. That statement alone is a punch in the gut. No one wants to think about it happening to themselves, or anyone they know or love. But it happens. It happens every day. It happens in big cities, in small communities, on farms, on highways, in hospitals, in homes. There is no safe haven for avoiding this, it will affect you or your community at some point in your life. We experience it from a healthcare worker’s perspective all too often. And unfortunately, for all of us leaders, at some point in our career we will likely have a member of our team experience this unthinkable, unfathomable loss.
When that loss occurs, I want to give you a few things to consider and remember. After the initial shock and condolences lent to your team member, ask him/her what they want shared with their colleagues. Don’t assume that they want to share it themselves. They likely have already notified those closest to them, and have many other, more pressing things to handle than worrying about communicating with their shift partners. One of the worst things we can do for our grieving employee is have them to come back to work and walk into situations where they have to explain why they were off. Don’t do that to them!
Avoid asking them what they need, they won’t know or won’t even be thinking about needs right now. Those first days and weeks, your team member will have needs that they don’t even realize they have until someone offers it. If you know of their favorite restaurant, or food, trying texting or calling and say, “do you mind if I drop off dinner for you tonight?”
Check in with your team member; send them messages that you are thinking of them while they are off. And when they come back, tell them something you remember about their child (if you knew the child). Or if you didn’t know the child, mention their child by name. The name of a lost child is a precious gift that can never be given too often.
These messages are near to me, because you see, as a leader I am now that team member. My precious daughter died in my hospital from complications after open heart surgery. Hearing people say her name means the world to me. Hearing stories of when others saw her for a pre-op appointment, or when she visited me at work are all that I have left. Stories, pictures and memories. Those first weeks were gut wrenching. We had amazing people in our circle that helped us through it. Some days are better than others. But it is still a journey that will be bumpy and challenging. Life will never be the same for my family or me. There is one less chair at the dinner table. There is an empty bedroom. There are shoes that will never be worn again. There are coloring books uncolored, stuffed animals un-hugged, puzzles still in pieces, and a life time of milestones that will never be met.
So, if you find yourself in that situation where you have a team member that experiences this life altering, unmentionable loss, please remember these things: say the child’s name, ask if you can share the information with others, don’t ask what they need, just do it and keep in touch. And then be understanding if during the middle of a conversation, a few tears spill through, because it’s going to take a long time for the raw, emotional pain to not crop up unexpectedly.
Dawn L. Miller MHA, CRA, RT(R)(M)(CT), RDMS, RVT is a Radiology Manager in New Orleans, LA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org