The Scar In Your Heart: Grief In End of Life Care

Dear Barbara, I respect your opinion and input and wonder if you can shed some light. I am a certified HPCRN. The JOY of hospice was mine for years.  I could easily see the beauty in almost any end-of-life situation. Then, my dad died on our service in 2015. I continued to work for hospice for the next three years but after my dad died I couldn’t see ANY beauty in end of life. I completely walked away in 2018. I don’t know how to “get it back.” You probably cannot answer this, but I’m curious about your thoughts.

Being on the other side of hospice (being a family member of a loved one dying) puts an entirely different perspective on end of life and our professional role. 

When my mother was on hospice the first thing I said to the nurse as she entered my home where my mother was staying was, "I am Barbara, Dorothy's daughter, not Barbara, director of hospice." Also, before my mother and step father’s deaths (they died within five months of each other) I quit my job as director of a hospice. I figured I could always find another job when I had my active grief behind me. 

When one of our own is facing the end of their life dying becomes personal not professional. We pull from a different part of ourselves in our professional role. 

You asked why your relationship to your hospice work was affected following the death of your dad. I think because every time you entered a patient's home and life it touched the scar in your heart from your father's death. It rubbed your grief wound. 

I think we compartmentalize so many of our thoughts and feelings to keep them safe and protected. Grief has its own compartment. It is how we learn to function in daily life. 

We don't recover from grief. We learn how to live with it and compartmentalizing it is one of the ways we find to carry the pain. Every time you saw a patient or went to work the door to your grief compartment was opened.  

I think you made a wise decision to find a job elsewhere in healthcare. 

When I was a director of hospice I would not let an employee return to direct patient care for a year following the death of someone close to them. I found other areas of hospice for them to work in.

Something More...  about The Scar In Your Heart

Caring for people at end of life has its own unique challenges.  Hospice, Palliative Care and Home Health agencies need to deeply support their staff or they will suffer from compassion fatigue. I encourage the use of my dvd, Care For The Caregiver and accompanying booklet, You Need Care Too.

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Jennifer, sitting by your grandmother’s side, holding her hand is your gift of love to her. She knows you are there. Talk to her, she can hear you. My blessings are with you both. Barbara

Jennifer C

I am sitting here by my grandmothers side. She has been mostly unresponsive, unable to communicate with words, but she is able to weakly move her thumb to rub my hand as we sit here quietly just holding hands. I had wondered if she knew I was even here, her rubbing my hand back as I rub hers let’s me know that my presence in bringing her comfort and she loves me. I have been reading your booklet, Gone from my sight and it has been a tremendous help! I have had to read it a couple of times over the last 24 hours, as I am struggling with what seems to feel so cruel, being stuck in a body with a mind that feels like it is still all here. This has been so hard, but your book is helping. Thank you.


Kathy, yes, working with end of life professionally while personally grieving is a challenge that adds another layer to our grief. Please take care of yourself. Maybe start writing a journal and recording those feeling and days when something opened your grief “compartment”. Sometimes just getting feelings out and on paper helps. I will keep you in my thoughts. Blessings! Barbara

Kathy Barham

Barbara, this article speaks to my situation right now. I work with a hospice as Volunteer Coordinator. I lost my father in March of 2020, about the time our world stopped moving. I have been working from home, and have realized that my grief for my father has overflowed into my work, and vice versa. The door to my grief compartment has been open closed too many times in the last year. I am comforted by the words in this article. I passed them on our chaplains, social workers and bereavement coordinator. I love all your booklets, especially Gone From My Sight. When I lost my mother in July 2015, the poem in that book comforted me. I have shared it many times with friends and family members. Thank you for always being willing to share your experience and knowledge with others. Blessings to you. Stay well!


Hi Jane, thank you for sharing your experience with your husband’s long illness. Caring for someone at home is hard work but can be so rewarding when we look back at our sacred memories. Blessings to you dear Jane. Barbara

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