Questions I get asked: Do I get sad working with death all the time?
Now this isn’t a question people ask me in terms of their own help, but it is a question I get asked a lot. A lot of the people who contact me, read my blog, or work with me at some point(usually before they have worked with me, not after) will ask whether I get sad doing this work and whether I find it depressing. Someone that I spoke to over the weekend even called it a ‘burning question’ that she was so curious about after reading my blogs and had to ask me. I also get asked how I manage to ‘separate’ myself from what I do and ‘not take it home at night’. Seeing as people often seem so interested and sometimes concerned about this I thought I would answer it here.
The answer to the question “do you get sad or depressed with this work?” is absolutely unequivocally “no”. I don’t. I absolutely love the work I do.
The answer to “how do you manage to not take it all home?” is “I don’t”. I spend a lot of time thinking about death and grief and after a session with a client, or a conversation around death, or a funeral, I will spend a lot of time looking at it – but not in the way you think.
These are very valid questions though (and something you should ask of any professional that is going to help you with grief) because unfortunately for a lot of people working in the death/grief arena the answers are yes they get sad, and that they take a lot home but in a way that troubles them…and makes them sad and depressed. Unfortunately so many of the people I have met working in the grief/funeral industry have what seems like a healthy respect for death, but is really covering up a great deal of fear.
I do understand why people ask this though. A few years ago I was a case manager in mental health. I worked with people who were, at times, incredibly demanding. At times I would receive suicide calls from my clients. I had clients that faxed the office 10 times a day and showed up at reception despite being told repeatedly not to. I had clients that were so depressed and on such heavy medication that it was all they could do once a week to get out of bed and come and see me. I had clients who would sit in an appointment with me and I could tell from watching them that today mine was not the only voice they were hearing. And I had clients that were so down on themselves and life that they thought they could never get a job again. And I took all of that home with me. My clients came to the toilet with me, they showered with me, they slept in my bed and woke me in the night, and they accompanied me on weekends away and nights out with friends. It took a good year in that job before I learnt how not to wear all of their pain.
I explain that story because I want to draw a real difference between that and how I feel about the work I do now. It isn’t about how I manage boundaries or anything like that which is what I used to have to do and is what people imagine I must be doing now. It’s about how I see the situation differently.
The thing is that I probably don’t see death and grief the way you do. Which is just as well as I couldn’t really help you if I did could I? I see grief as a collection of emotions and questions that often never get looked at properly. And I see something very different around death and what happens, how it affects you and how it affects your family. I’ve been around enough of it to know that is you unpack everything you are thinking and feeling, and ask (and answer) some different questions about what has happened, you will see things you hadn’t seen before…and change your experience of a loss in your life.
Death is a very natural part of life that most people struggle with, and when I am able to help someone who has lost someone they love to decrease the pain they are in and feel closer to and more able to think about and remember their loved one, ‘sad’ is the last thing I feel.
And when I say I take it all home and think about it I don’t mean in a painful and stressful way. I take every encounter, every experience, every discussion around death away and think about it, turn it around in my mind, to better understand people’s experiences of death and grief in their life. I use these opportunities to think about how I can better do my work, what blogs I need to write, and what types of products I want to produce for my clients in the future. I use all of this to better and more widely do what I love.
So hopefully there’s your answer. 🙂