Professional vs. Employer Values on Death/Dying and Grief/Grieving

by Victoria Brewster, MSW

I am currently reading a book titled, Comfort by Ann Hood. Yes, I read a lot and as this is an area of interest for me….. this book is about a mother who loses her daughter to a virulent version of strep at age 5. The little girl goes into the hospital due to a high fever and dies 2 days later….I cannot even begin to imagine what this mother feels and is going through, but I can guess the depths of her grief as I am a mother myself.

I have older adult/senior clients who have lost adult children to various illness/diseases like cancer. No parent expects to outlive their children. The expectation is the parent goes first and then the child. It is still a book worth reading as it shows how different individuals grieve and no two people will grieve the same or for the same length of time.

Grief and Grieving along with Death and Dying should be core courses in any helping professional program whether certificate, degree or basic course work. Perhaps it is the time of year as I have had in the past 2 weeks, 2 clients die and 2 have been diagnosed with cancer.

No matter how a professional prepares themself, especially if one chooses to work with older adults, in palliative, hospice or in a hospital/clinic setting, you are not fully prepared. The professional needs to offer a listening ear, empathy and compassion with a client that is ill and the same for the family of a client who has died while keeping their own feelings in check.

Do you attend the funeral, call or send a condolence/sympathy card? What is the policy at your place of employment? What are your wishes as the professional and do they sometimes clash with your employer?

I am curious as to how other professionals who work with a population who is at risk, ill, with chronic health conditions, in palliative or hospice-how do you prepare yourself? What words of empathy, wisdom and knowledge do you offer to the family left behind?

Please feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or let’s get a discussion going on this topic!

* First published at:


  1. Great topic Vikki. I think many professionals working within this field or are new to it, may be unaware of some of these issues when dealing with client’s who are ill or have lost their children or other family members. It’s definitely an area that is still “taboo” for some. Because it can be uncomfortable and emotional for both the practitioner and client. I think this area definitely needs more discussion. I am sure there are practitioners out there that also may lack the support they themselves need when working within this realm of social work. I have a friend and colleague who has just started working within this area of the helping profession and is very interested in this topic. I will recommend this book to her.

    1. Yes, death and dying is very taboo in society which is a shame as in order for one to be born, one must die–just how it works.
      I do not know how many professionals think about death and dying and/or grief and grieving, but as one who works with seniors it is very much in my thoughts…..
      I also think it is very important for any professional who works with a segment of the population who is more likely to die that they receive supervision about this issue/topic.
      Thanks for the comment Canadian_Jai.

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