Receptionists dealing with Grief

As a receptionist or a Manager have your or your staff ever had training on dealing with grief and bereavement?

It is not something you might think of, but in your line of work it is something that you will come across many times.

I remember when I was a new receptionist being faced with patients that had just lost a loved ones. In the early days I did not quite know to react.  Did I offer my condolences, did I act as normal, or did I just say nothing? I really have never had any experience in dealing with the bereaved and there were no practice guidelines to follow. Not something that you would have guidelines on I should imagine.

I remember initially judging people as they come into the surgery after losing a loved one. I was amazed at the number of people who acted as if nothing had ever happened coming to the desk quite happy, laughing acting their normal usual self – I always expected people who had just lost someone to be emotional and  in a state of confusion.  There were some that were just inconsolable and those that were just numb and those of course that were angry. Each person that came in that had recently been bereaved acted so different. But all of them were going through the same emotions – they just dealt with it different ways.

I found the best way was to acknowledge their loss – and then it was up to them if they wanted to say anymore– I had many patients confide in me – their worries and fears – something they said that they were unable to share with their family and friends.

It is important at times like these that if a patient does want to open up that the receptionist takes them to a quiet part of the reception area and to give them time. Many patients have always remember the kindness that we receptionists showed them in their time of loss.

At our surgery we always had some leaflets and contact details of several different organisations that helped people who were suffering a loss. These were always gratefully appreciated by the patients.

I was fortunate to have been sent by my practice on a training course “An Introduction to Bereavement”

I soon found out that bereavement is not just losing someone to a death. It can affect so many people in so many different ways.

Grief is a natural response to a loss. It is the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Someone might associate grief with the death of a loved one and this grief does often cause the most intense grief – but grief / bereavement can also include

  • A relationship breakup
  • Loss of health
  • a loved one’s serious illness
  • Losing a job
  • A miscarriage
  • Death of a pet
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of safety after a trauma

The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief can be. Losses can also lead to grief, for example someone might experience grief after moving away from home, going to University, changing jobs, selling a family home, or retiring from a carer you have loved.

While loss affects people in different ways, many people experience the following symptoms when they are grieving.

Shock and disbelief – right after a loss it can be hard to accept what has happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss has really happened – feel like you are in a bad dream.

Sadness – profound sadness is probably the most common symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot of feel emotionally unstable.

Guilt – you may feel guilty about things you did or did not say. Some people also feel guilt that they have a feeling of being relieved when the person has died after a long, difficult illness. You might feel guilty that you could have done more to have prevented the death from happening.

Anger – Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you still might feel anger and resentful. You might feel the need to “blame” someone for your loss.

Fear – loss can trigger off worries and fears. You might become anxious, feeling insecure, not being able to cope. You may even have panic attacks. You fear life without your loved one and fears about your own mortality.

Physical symptoms – grief can be extremely emotional but grief can often involve physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.

Grief is a very powerful thing and can have so many different symptoms surrounding it – and these can go on for such a long time after the loss has happened.

As a receptionist you often can see or hear that patients are suffering some of these emotions. Give the patient time, sometimes a kind word and a helpful attitude will go a long way to helping this person through their grieving period.

Nobody asks for grief and it can be such a hard thing to cope with in many ways.




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