Wings of Change Publications

Grieving the Loss of an Institution

Grieving the Loss of an Institution

 

 

Friday, at the end of a full and stress-filled week, I learned that my undergraduate college was permanently closing its doors. A not-so-great week for me just plummeted into a steady river of tears, built up over the challenges of self-employment, Coronavirus, children driving cross-country, social distancing, keeping my elderly parents safe from the virus, the dog’s unexpected surgery, and other extraneous factors.

Alumni were given a heads up about the possibility of closure, so this didn’t come as a surprise for most of us. But like the death of a loved one, even though you know it’s coming, when it arrives, we still feel the intense grief.

MacMurray College had 174 years of greatness under its belt. As a small, private college, it sits in the middle of central Illinois, in the heartland of our country. I attended MacMurray from 1985-1989 and moved away from home at the age of 17 – saying yes to an admission letter and a 4-hour drive from home. I was trusting (in the days before virtual internet tours) that this was the place for me.

I didn’t know that this institution was going to be my mentor, parent, and family. I had no idea what to expect from the college experience – I was naïve, and MacMurray took me under her wing and nurtured me in every way possible.

You need friends to laugh and cry with? Done.

You need classes that stretch your belief system and comfort zones? Covered.

You need challenges that help you prove that you can survive tough times? Check. 

You need a place where you feel a sense of belonging? Ouch. That was the tender spot. That’s the deepest and most intense pain. My sense of belonging was fine-tuned in the confines of MacMurray College. The caliber of students, the unconditional acceptance, the sense of family, and the culture steeped in tradition, history, knowledge, and love all allowed me to sink in and trust others. To feel the camaraderie. To stop judging as a high school student, and to begin practicing acceptance as a member of this warm community.

I became an adult at MacMurray. I learned how to balance finals and friends, laundry and term papers, feelings and unconditional love. Never was there a professor who you felt was letting you coast on through – but they were there at all hours to help you and cheer you on. On the last day of living on campus, even President Mitchell helped me, a hot mess of nerves, calm down before speaking at graduation with his sweet jokes. The campus was small enough to offer almost everyone a chance to be a leader if you wanted the opportunity. We practiced our communication, leadership and forgiveness skills on each other and still ended up feeling the sense of belonging. That’s a win-win.

The phrase “alma mater” is used to describe the school we once attended. The phrase comes from Latin words meaning “nourishing mother.” I spoke with one of my college friends this morning and we discussed the feeling of loss – like a parent or grandparent dying. MacMurray is my alma mater, a mother of sorts that nourished my mind, my heart, and my being. She was there to course-correct, to encourage, to stretch, and to reel in. She was there to provide and to love. She was there for all of us who were her students and children. My heart is flooded with understanding and resolution as I connect the dots between the nurturing I received from MacMurray and the authenticity of my grief.

As I sit here writing this, my Facebook notifications alert me of yet another friend who posted pictures, mementos, and memories from our 4 years there. I smile and remember the good times. I pendulate between warm memories and that melancholy feeling of eventually not having a physical campus to go back to – like selling your childhood home. Without a doubt, the friends I made at MacMurray are the best friends a person could have. They are brothers and sisters to me and continue to help me feel comforted and accompanied.

As a grief specialist, I recognize that I am mourning the loss of my place of belonging. While this kind of grief may be stuffed down, denied, minimized, judged or even ridiculed, it’s very real. The grief experience is a collection of emotions and feelings that occur with the loss of someone or something meaningful to you.

The closing of this institution is also happening concurrently with other stressful events as Coronavirus creates losses of many kinds for almost everyone. Let me assure you: it’s not silly. It’s not stupid to be upset over a part of your history ending. A part of you goes with it, as we are all part of what makes the institution meaningful.

When a church, school, agency, or workplace changes ownership, changes leadership or closes, these suggestions may be helpful:

  • Much of the pain or sadness that you feel comes from not having the camaraderie, the people, or the familiar comfort of doing things the same way. As much as you can, stay in touch with those that are important to you and make the effort to keep your connections alive.
  • We cannot change the past, and the sense of powerlessness does not mean that we are. Take an inventory of what would be helpful to help you move through your grief in healthy ways. Let the tears surface. Stay with your pain and tend to yourself gently. Slow down and prepare that cup of tea. Call a friend. Go to bed early. Drink your water.
  • Remember that institutions can be honored, just like people. Reminisce with others and plan a ceremony or ritual to honor contributions and places where the institution made a difference. Share pictures. Plan a happy hour, a dinner, or a reunion and be close to those who provide comfort to you. Tell stories. Toast the friendships, inside jokes, and family by choice that you have gained.
  • As much as possible, try not to judge your emotions and your reactions to the changes to which you are adjusting. Grieving effectively involves granting yourself a lot of grace.

 Sweet MacMurray, you may not be receiving new students, but I know that you live on forever in the souls of those that you took under your wing.

The part of us that perseveres, that never quits, that grits our teeth and says “oh hell no, I’m not going down” – that’s MacMurray.

The part of us that can beat others at trivia nights and Jeopardy tournaments – oh yeah baby, that’s MacMurray (Core Curriculum!).

The part of us that can sit quietly next to a friend that is grieving or hurting and not run away from discomfort – that’s MacMurray.

The part of us that can communicate clearly, calmly, and effectively – that’s MacMurray.

The part of us that loves an inside joke, a few drinks, and cherishing memories – that’s MacMurray.

The part of us that has a genuine appreciation of love and acceptance – and a sense of belonging – that’s MacMurray.

Our best to you, Mac. There are no goodbyes required when your qualities live on in us all. #MacFam

 

 

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I know what you are thinking . . . because I have been there before - I. Don't. Have. Time. For. This.  As regulations change, the expectations for hospice professionals to manage their time, asses the patient for needs, provide emotional support, and document the visit WITH supporting evidence of hospice appropriateness places a lot of  pressure and demands on you.  So in the spirit of saving time, let's keep this simple:

1)  Coffee, with a side of organization

  OK, that's only part of it . . . with coffee (or your morning beverage of choice) in hand, give yourself about 10-15 minutes of solace and alone time to review your schedule and gather your thoughts and goals for the day.  As you know, even the best laid plans in hospice get derailed.  Building in some extra time will allow for delays and derailments.

2) Know Your Role

Recognize what IS yours, and what ISN'T yours.  What does that mean?  Let's be honest.  How many times have you, as a nurse, spent extra time listening to a patient and family member, thinking the whole time, "This is really something the social worker or chaplain has expertise in . . ."  This is not to say that you shouldn't be giving support.  As hospice professionals, it's who we are and it mostly comes organically from all of us.  However, good use of your team's skills can free you up to move onto your next patient, and allow the other team members to utilize their skills and expertise.  If you have a "talker" on your hands, planning a joint visit with the social worker or chaplain can be very helpful.  "Managing up" your teammates by explaining all that they can do for the patient and family (Emily the social worker has special training in communication . . .  Doug the chaplain does a great job at answering these questions about spirituality . . . ) can relieve you of feeling like you have to do it all, and helps the family understand the valuable resources that hospice provides.

3) Shed Some Light on the Visit Structure

Break out your visit into parts, and explain the visit structure to the family from the initial visit.  Are you thinking "I can't do that to my patients and families" right about now?  This may be a good time to think about a time when you didn't know what to expect, and the feeling of relief you had when someone mapped it out for you.  Explaining the structure of your visit helps the patient, the family, and you.  Have you ever had a visit where you were trying to do an assessment and the spouse is talking to you about her difficult, sleepless night at the same time?  Or when you are trying to teach the caregivers about medication changes and the children of the family come home from school and need attention?  When the family members know the flow of your visit, they can plan to be available as well.  Explain that teaching is a part of every visit, and that it is helpful to be available at the end of every visit to review goals, answer questions and teach family members about any care topics that apply to the patient's care.

4) Create a Central Caregiving Hub

Help the family during your initial visit where to keep the folder of information, and use the folder to keep notes and teaching materials.  All family members and team members should know where the folder is stored, and it can be referred to as often as needed by everyone on the caregiving team.  Store your patient education materials in this folder as well.

5) Equip Yourself with Effective Tools 

Use a teaching tool that is organized, up-to-date, and designed for ease-of-use.  The glaring truth here is that your time is extremely valuable, and many of the caregiver booklets available today are not as thorough or up-to-date as our industry now demands.  Flipping through a patient/family education booklet looking for the correct topic that you are teaching in the moment takes time from an already busy schedule.  Wings of Change Publications designs patient education materials with hospice professionals in mind.  We understand the times pressures, the survey stress, and the true desire to give the patient and family the very best care that we can.  Check out the ways that Nature Gave Us Butterflies can help you streamline your visit at Wings of Change Publications.  See you there!

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