This is Memorial Day weekend. Now, I know Memorial Day is a day to remember soldiers who gave their lives for our country. But earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend a different kind of memorial.
Every year the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center has a tribute service for children who have lost their lives while under our care. In recent years, this has been coordinated by the Harriet Lane Compassionate Care program, a group dedicated to enhancing end-of-life care at our hospital and to providing ongoing bereavement counseling and support to the families who have lost children.
This is always a moving experience. As you can see from the program, there is a keynote speaker. Mrs. Wandishin, who gave the address this year, is phenomenal. She was a dedicated mother to her child who died of leukemia. She is an exceptional public speaker, having taken her grief and transformed it into strength, which she now shares with other grieving parents, and with health care providers in training.
There was music, provided by a doctor and nurses who are my colleagues. I’m awed by their talent, both for music and for medicine.
The most touching part of the evening, though, was the reception afterwards. This provided a low-key opportunity to renew the bonds between us (caregivers) and the families. The mother and sister of this patient were both there, and it was great to talk to them again. I also caught up with parents of children I took care of years ago. It was from those encounters that I learned what I think is the most important lesson of the evening.
Parents of children who die often worry that their kids will be forgotten. I remember every child whose parent came to the tribute service. Parents: Your children are NOT forgotten. Taking care of them has a profound impact on our lives, and we do not forget.
By the same token, caregivers in the hospital often underestimate the impact we have in our patients’ lives. More than one family told me that they pray for me and for my colleagues every day. It’s humbling to realize that, 5 years after the loss of their child, a family could still find it in their hearts to pray for strength for me… every day. And could still thank me for all that I did. So, for the young or in-training doctors, nurses, child life specialists, social workers, and other caregivers who might read this blog:
Never underestimate how strong an impact you have on the lives of the patients in your care. And never forget what an honor it is to do the jobs we do.
Look here for online resources for grieving parents.