Registered nurse and case manager Debra Champlin tells a poignant story about the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Kansas hospice where she works. Families were not allowed to visit directly with loved ones, so she would put on a protective gown, goggles, and mask, and hold a cell phone up to the patient’s ear. “Sometimes they were conscious; sometimes they weren’t,” she recalls. “That family member was at the window talking through my phone to their loved one. That’s what we did for almost a year.”
Olga Zamora, ISRI’s vice president of human resources, lost her father from an illness during the early part of the pandemic. She was allowed just 10 minutes to speak with him alone at a hospital before he died. “He was unconscious,” she remembers. “I told him, ‘Go in peace, we’ll be fine.’ Then, I didn’t see [him] breathing anymore.” She says grief and anger are still with her, although she is managing the feelings.
Champlin and Zamora joined Lynne Rifkin Shine, mental health counselor and founder of Audubon Counseling in Getzville, N.Y., to share their understanding of bereavement at the Coping with Grief and Loss session March 23 at ISRI2022. “We’re coming off a really tough few years after COVID,” Shine states. “Every single one of us has our own story.” The panel discussed how grief and loss can interplay with your professional and personal lives.
Lynne Shine, who is married to ISRI Past Chair Brian Shine, emphasized the role of the amygdala, the part of the human brain that regulates emotion. “If there’s one word you can equate with anxiety it’s ‘control.’ When control decreases, anxiety escalates,” she explains. Strong emotions—anger, fear, even extreme excitement—make it difficult or impossible to think straight.
One way Lynne Shine suggests to calm down and focus in times of stress is box breathing, a technique practiced by Navy SEALs. She recommends simple things to stay positive like keeping a journal and writing something positive about yourself every day; making purposeful goals; and trying to connect with other people.
Debra Champlin, who is married to ISRI Immediate Past Chair Gary Champlin, says hospice care is about the right to die pain-free and with dignity, and can offer a healing environment for families to work through past trauma. “Many times, when [death is prolonged], when the family will open up, you will begin to hear many stories, and that [dying] person is trying to get everything in order so they can pass,” she explains.
She suggests planning for your final months or a loved one’s by making and reviewing a durable power of attorney, and having significant conversations with family about last wishes and end-of-life care, even if that seems years away. “Plans change based on what our conditions is or where you’re at in your phase of life,” she says.
For resources for coping with bereavement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a web page that lists places you can get support. The Maryland Department of Health’s Behavioral Health Administration is one of many agencies that have compiled similar resources at the state level.
Photos courtesy of ISRI. Featured image caption: Speakers Debra Champlin, Lynne Shine, and Olga Zamora share their experiences with grief and loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Body image caption: Attendees at Coping with Grief and Loss listen to strategies for dealing with sadness March 23 at ISRI2022.