Short essays by Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., the author of TING AND I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, published in September 2011 by Outskirts Press (Parker, CO, USA), available from outskirtspress.com/tingandi, Barnes and Noble [bn.com], and Amazon [amazon.com], in paperback or ebook formats. Please visit us at tingandi.com for more information.
Monday, April 15, 2019
GOOD GRIEF, "Author's Note"
Who am I? I am you. Who are you? You are me.
We are ONE — connected through the drama of living and loving, working and
playing, caring and sharing, birth and death, grief and loss, joy
and sorrow. Yes, we are ONE — engaged in the
story of life, and as time passes, we learn to celebrate who we are and who we
becoming as we continue on our path — our
individual journey :
the survivors, recovering and creating a new story.
— Cheryl A. Barrett, Nurse Coach, Author
We all experience loss during our
time on earth: loss of a spouse, parent, child, pet, home, jobs, etc. We are
born and grow to understand the impermanence of our existence with no life
expectancy date. However, most of us go through life with little or no thought
to our mortality, making no preparation for our departure or preparation as the
survivor of a departed loved one or the loss of something significant to us
such as a home, pet, or job.
The impact of any loss depends on
the value, worth, or significance of a specific loss, as assigned by each
person. The experience of loss is personal and impacts the mind, body, and
spirit of the primary person involved, as well as a network of others:
immediate family, extended family, friends, colleagues, and community.
Your loss begins with great sorrow, but there is hope as you
courageously take the first step on your healing journey. I was reminded of this
by the saying in one of the sympathy cards I received:
To know sorrow is to acknowledge the
To carry on with a heart full of
memories is wholly and lovingly human…
To heal, day by day, is to build a bridge of love that
will reach far beyond time and into forever.
–– Ambassador Cards
You may wonder what gives me the
right to write about grief and loss. I do not have a psychology degree nor have
I done extensive research in the field of death and dying. I have not written books,
been quoted by experts or appeared on a TV show. I am an ordinary person — one
who has recently lost a husband and gone through the process of mourning his
death. One who has struggled with putting the shattered pieces of my heart and
life back together… a survivor of grief and loss.
Besides being a grieving woman, I
do have experience with death, grief, and loss. I am a nurse with over 30 years
of caring for patients, families, and loved ones. I have worked as a nurse in a
variety of jobs: as a bedside care nurse in the hospital on a medical/surgical
unit, telemetry unit, and intensive care unit (ICU); as a professor of nursing,
teaching in a college and university in the classroom and the clinical rotation
sites in hospitals; as an administrative supervisor in a hospital; as an
editorial director for a nursing publication; as an educator and director of
education in home care, and now as a nurse coach and mentor.
Through the years of nursing at
the bedside, especially in the critical care area, I have had the honor to
participate in the grieving and loss process with many patients and families. I
have witnessed families face the sudden, and often traumatic, loss of a loved
one and not know what to do, where to begin, what is the right thing to do, whom
to call and more. I have held family members as they cried and when there were
no tears, gently provided the comfort of touch and caring.
I have always had an inner need to
comfort others. Here are just two stories of my experience with death and
caring that have touched me and helped prepare me for my own journey through
grief and loss.
One story involved a patient who
came into the ICU with a sudden heart attack. The prognosis was grim, at best.
The son stood by the bedside, eyes gazing downward at his father, eyes filled
with hope of recovery even as he was wringing his hands.
I started talking to him. He
revealedthat he did not get to tell his
father, before he died, some things he regretted.
I brought a chair and put it by
the head of the bed, next to his father’s head and said, “Patients like this
who can’t speak and who look like they cannot comprehend anything, are often
reported to still hear things.”
I suggested he sit in the chair
and tell his father what he wanted to say now. As I pulled the curtain and left
him alone with his father, I saw him sit in the chair, lean closely to his
father and start whispering in his ear.
About two days later, when I was
off duty, I got a call from my unit that this patient died. I quickly got in
the car, came to the hospital and sat in the waiting room with the family,
including this son. The son was the last to leave. He felt lost, with nowhere
So, we went across the street to
the restaurant and sat and talked for a little while. He told me he was glad to
have had the chance to tell his father what he had on his mind. We parted, and
he went home. I was a stranger allowed to participate in the personal grief of
another and to witness hissuffering…not
knowing then that I would also have strangers participate in my own grief and
Another story is of a patient who was dying after a long
illness. As an ICU nurse, I have developed intuition, a kind of “knowing” when
a patient’s condition worsens. I thought, he’s
not going to make it through the night.
Indeed, that was the case with
this gentleman. His wife was at the bedside, and he was connected to many wires
and medication lines. I could see from the monitor how the heart rate was
changing, losing stability and slowing — its bleeps farther and farther apart.
It just happened to be about the time that the wife usually went home.
Understanding what I saw happening with the patient, I asked
“Would you like to
be with your husband when he passes on?”
She said, “Yes.”
So, I told her I was not sure, but
this is what I saw and maybe she should stay. He passed away not long after
that. His wife was by his side in the lounge chair I brought in for her, with
the patient’s side rail down, and she was holding his hand, stroking it gently.
The next step was to call the son,
which I did.
When I asked his wife if she would
like to stay with me while I performed some final care for him…and participate
herself, she said, “Yes.”
Postmortem care is not for
everyone. But, I was led to ask her. As we washed her husband and put a clean
gown on him, she gazed lovingly at him and stroked his brow. She told me the
story of her husband: what a good father he was, how she loved his beautiful
blue eyes and more. On several occasions during our time together, I left the
room to go cry, overwhelmed with emotion. One day in the future, I would do
this gentle care for my own husband upon his death, and use the image of this
experience to draw strength.
Nothing in my training and
experience prepared me for when it was my turn to face a significant death and
go through the grieving process. I went to school for nursing for six years — a
challenging pursuit culminating with a graduate degree and have taught nursing
students in the academic setting. I am an Integrative Nurse Coach and
Transpersonal Coach officially recognized by the American Holistic Nurses
Association (AHNA). I am also board-certified by the American Holistic Nurses
Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC) as a Nurse Coach. I learned theory and
process about grief and loss during these years and have, of course,
participated in the lives of those who have crossed my path in health care
None of the textbook stuff really
helped. Oh, I remembered the Stages of the Grieving Process and what the coping
strategies were, but that was not what I needed.
What I needed I could not
verbalize. I was a strong person. I could handle this. I did not want to expose
my vulnerability — my neediness. That’s not who I was. But who I was…was about
to change drastically. I was no longer a wife, partner, friend, lover, and
more. I became a widow and progressed along a journey into the unknown…as you
will read in this book.
I’ll share with you my personal
story of loss and the stress management and self-care strategies that I
identified along the way through the healing process, strategies that can be
personalized and applied to any loss.
We are unique individuals with
unique needs and talents to implement self-care healing practices. We grieve
and we love… in our own individual way. The journey through this healing
process is not measured in time, but in each heartbeat and in each breath.
With her permission, I will be serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD
Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book is through this