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May 21, 2018

How To Make A Nurse Cry

by:  S. Craig Greer, M.Div

For the last 18 years I have worked in hospice and I have a running joke – I know how to make a nurse cry.  Actually, it’s no joke. All I have to do is look a nurse in the eye, pause for a moment and ask, “How are you?”  Few people ask them this question and more often than not you see them well up with tears.

This also works on hospice aides, social workers and chaplains, as well as others who provide care and support in difficult situations.  Caregivers in general, myself included, don’t take the time to appreciate what they experience and have to move on to the next person they must care for.  At the end of the day they often have to care for their family as well and there is little time to digest what they hear, see and feel every day.

All these encounters for all types of caregivers take a toll. Charged with healing and with generous hearts they go into situations that are not easy.  They take care of the physical wounds, address the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of others.  They encounter the unthinkable and do so many thankless and unpleasant tasks day in and day out.

This is true not just for those who have entered the caregiving profession, but also for those family members who provide care to loved ones.  It takes a toll physically, emotionally and spiritually and there is often an unrealistic expectation we can and should do more and we should do better – we should be perfect.

Caregiving for an extended period of time without taking care of ourselves leads to compassion fatigue which is a numbness to the experiences of daily living.  It can also lead to soul injury. This is where we lose the sense of who we are and what we believe.  We can become trapped by unresolved grief and trauma and feel guilt and shame.

From what I have seen, most caregivers carry some amount of guilt that they could not do more, that they were not perfect, that that had a bad day or said the wrong thing.  They carry the burdens of what they have seen, heard and experienced and often don’t have someone to confide in and believe they have to have it all together and walk a lonely and solitary road.

This illusion and isolation typically magnifies soul injury.  We often see this when caregivers leave the field. The hurt and pain has gotten to be so bad they try and find another way.  Sometimes they become self-destructive. But the injury often remains unaddressed and unhealed. Sometimes we humans turn to self-medication through alcohol or drugs to numb our feelings of pain and inadequacy.

Working with veterans for 30 years, Deborah Grassman, a nurse practitioner at the VA, has learned that soul injury not only affects those who have been through the trauma of war, violence and abuse but also affects first responders, professional and non-professional caregivers. Through her experiences she has also learned how to help others through unmourned loss and unforgiven guilt and shame find a way to peace with the past and learn self-compassion.

On May 22nd Deborah brings her workshop, Soul Injury: Liberating Unmourned Loss and Unforgiven Guilt to Canterbury United Methodist Church.  The workshop is free and open to the public.  Registration is at 4:30 p.m. and starts at 5:30 p.m.  It is sponsored by Comfort Care Hospice and Opus Peace. Continuing education is available for nurses and social workers. To register for this free event, go to