The Healer’s Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief brings to the fore the feelings of end-of-life professionals as they daily face dying and death. Such workers will find their grief–heretofore disenfranchised–now validated. While this alone is so valuable, they can also find strategies to cope with the inevitable experience, yet often hidden, of the impact of loss and grief. Given the current pandemic, this book could not have arrived at a more needed time. It is a mandated read for seasoned and beginning health carers now working in that thin space between life and death.

Kenneth J. Doka, PhD
Senior Consultant, The Hospice Foundation of America
Author, Disenfranchised Grief, Grief is a Journey

Modern medicine has never yearned more than for a book like this. The Healer’s Burden allows us to get in touch with our passion for healing and recognizes the pain that often walks beside it. Finding the true meaning and purpose in our daily work is critical to our overall well-being, mitigates burnout and promotes our sustainability in medicine. These personal stories and poems create a relatable narrative. As we work to be in the here and now, taking a moment to read an excerpt, reflect upon it and create our own narrative can not only heal us but also connect us with both our patients and our colleagues and remind us why we entered medicine in the first place.

Lisa MacLean, MD
Associate Professor
Director of Physician Wellness
Henry Ford Health System

My very first nursing job was in the intensive care unit at a large academic health science hospital. Since I was new, it was my job to work the Christmas and New Year holidays. On Christmas day, we had eleven patients. By New Year’s Day, all eleven had died. I was distraught and did not know how to deal with my emotions. I asked myself if this was the right position for me? Could I really handle all this death? I could not remember any lecture in nursing school that prepared me for death and my emotions.

Although I came to learn that being with people at the time of their death is a unique privilege given only to a few, the hidden burden that health care professionals feel takes its toll on body, mind, and spirit. Much has been written about the moral distress and the compassion fatigue experienced by those who care for the dying. The Healer’s Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief, offers much needed compelling insights through personal reflections of professionals from various disciplines who work with the dying. Through stories and poems, the book provides an unparalleled resource to professionals to deal with their own personal grief journey. The book is a must read for all in the field of caring for the dying.

Patricia Gonce Morton, PhD, RN, ACNP-BC, FAAN
Dean Emeritus, University of Utah College of Nursing
Editor, Journal of Professional Nursing

Professional caregivers experience grief at the loss of those in their care. These stories and poems by chaplains, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers, and a therapeutic clown attest to the weightiness of watching patients suffer and die and wishing they could have “done more.”  In crafting these deeply felt experiences into well told stories, and placing them on the page, they honor the singular lives of people they cared for. Readers come to know both the givers and receivers of care and, often, to recognize themselves in these encounters with life and death.

Editors have wisely and generously included guidelines for using narrative methods to engage with these stories, affording readers opportunities to reclaim their right as healers to heal themselves.

Lynne Mijangos, RN, LMSW, MFA, MS
Lecturer in Narrative Medicine
Columbia University 
Co-editor, Narrative Social Work: The Power and Possibility of Story

I completed my specialty training with a tremendous sense of pride, prepared to have a great impact on patients and families in their time of greatest need and hopelessness. I entered and ended each day with the knowledge that I had given my all, but, like many of my colleagues, I ignored fatigue and underestimated the accumulated trauma of those occasions when, despite my best efforts, the neurological disease won. The Healer’s Burden is a book of intimate stories and poems from healthcare providers experiencing professional grief.  It serves as a powerful tool to help us listen, learn, and heal so that we have the courage to continue helping others in need.  We must remember we are never alone.  And we must find hope even in the darkest moments, for the lessons learned can give us insights into how to bring light to others.

Tony Avellino, MD, MBA
Pediatric Neurosurgeon
MSU Health Care Chief Clinical and Medical Officer
Michigan State University

Professional grief often expresses itself as “I am tired…” But grief should not be confused with exhaustion, and these stories and poems should not be confused with simple tales.  The Healer’s Burden is a collection of self-reflections that completes the professional grief mantra of “I am tired,” with “yet I have a community with whom I can share the weight.”  Every clinician who reads this book will feel their burden lighten, since these stories and poems give their readers the sense that others are helping to carry the load.

Ira Bedzow, PhD
Director of the Biomedical Ethics and Humanities Program
UNESCO Chair in Bioethics
New York Medical College

This rich collection of voices demonstrates the tremendous power of personal accounts of human experiences. Each author creates a window. For some readers, this window will be into their own souls. This book will help them to name and understand their own experiences with professional grief. For others, this collection will enable them to better appreciate the burden of loss professionals face.  The Healer’s Burden shines much-needed light into the hidden space of professional grief.

Ana S. Iltis, PhD
Carlson Professor of University Studies and Professor of Philosophy
Director, Center for Bioethics, Health and Society
Co-editor, Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics