Review of LTUE panels…

Recap of the Grieving panel-

Members- Amanda Fuesting (Hospice nurse), Dr. Nik Rao (Consulting psychiatrist for a well-known Pediatric Hospital, and physically disabled), Brian D’Almeida (physically disabled/transplant survivor), Scott Bascom (physically disabled and caregiver), and myself.

These were the ‘questions’ that were the entering argument:

Question 1- Professionals working in fields that encounter death frequently tend to compartmentalize everything. How does this impact their reactions to death and grieving?

Question 2- What impact does military service have on reactions to death and injury, and how would that differ from civilians who encounter death frequently?

Question 3- Writers often approach the character who knows that they have a limited lifespan with fatalism or over-caution. Those are reactions that people have, but they’re hardly the only ones. And people don’t usually stay in either one as they actually get a chance to grieve the perceived loss and accept a new reality. What does this actually look like?

Question 4- Burnout is a real problem for police, military, and medical professionals alike. How much of that is related to being unable to grieve deaths that have happened in a professional setting and what does that look like for a character?

Question 5- How does someone with a chronic illness relate with people who are able-bodied and healthy? And how does working closely people who are living with chronic illnesses change your perception of it?

I started with a trigger warning and told people up front this panel was going to be dark…

Amanda started off with the reality of death. The smells, textures, and reactions of those dying. Next Nik talked about the issues with children and their reactions to dying, along with the parent’s reactions. I talked about the military response to death and the compartmentalization of feelings not just in the military structure but anyone who deals with death professionally (Fire, Police, EMS, Hospice, Hospital). Brian talked about surviving a transplant, and other coping mechanisms he adopted, including FIDO (F**k It Drive On). Scott gave a very touching story of caring for a disabled parent, while disabled himself.

We discussed each question and how the writers might use it to give their characters more depth, and the fact that there is no RIGHT response to death. Everyone reacts differently, depending on their particular ‘role’, if you will. We also talked about survivor guilt (primarily military, but also parents), and how burnout affects various professionals.

I used the example of the Indians at the funeral from Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff to talk about the military mentality (self confidence, it won’t happen to me, even while burying a shipmate).

We also talked about rehabilitation, and the fact that so many movies/books get it wrong. You’re NOT going to be up/fighting ready in 2 days after being shot, nor are you going to jump out of that ‘medbox’ and go back into combat after regrowing a limb. That limb doesn’t know how to work!!! It has to be retrained… The example I used was veterans getting prosthetics at Walter Reed/Bethesda, and the ramp up of ability from barely being able to stand, to running within months.

The questions were great, and I think we answered ‘most’ of them, with all the panelists chiming in. There were a number of sidebars after the panel and during the following days, so I think it was a success.


Review of LTUE panels… — 11 Comments

  1. That had to be a rough panel. Important to do, though. Thanks for handling the tough subjects.

    Sometimes, too, it’s good to be reminded that ordinary people haven’t been surrounded by death for a large part of their lives.

  2. Delighted and surprised to see this as a topic at LTUE!
    I don’t think reactions to grieving come naturally; I think they have to be learned. And there is likely more need for that in the current age, where there is often ample time that isn’t spent in back-breaking work to get food on the table.
    A few months ago, I got a look at some family trees from prior to 1899. It was amazing to me how many children were born, and how few lived to adulthood. Almost all my ancestors were listed on the census as “farmer,” and my guess is that there just was no way for anyone to take time off to grieve.
    What did they do? Get drunk, or go to church. I suppose that was it.

    • The stereotype of the strong, silent farmer who just keels over without ever saying anything is born of the pre-modern medicine world. Diptheria, Cholera, any sort of communicable disease like TB or the Flu, all robbed families of many children.

      Then there’s the physical hazards, such as pigs (no, really, pigs, pigs are death on newborns up to about 2-3yoa) and other hazards.

      Thus the coping mechanism of turning it all inward. It was a rough life.

  3. I’ve been to too many military funerals, but I guess we all have. The ‘pageantry’ of a military funeral is important for the survivors, I think. It is short, intense, and loaded with symbolism. It allows service members to get their grief out and be able to move on with the mission. I wonder if Firefighters and Police use similar symbols for the same reason?

    Anyway, I believe the symbolism is important and it is not portrayed well or often.

  4. McC- Yep, it wasn’t easy.

    Pat- They went back to work. My family tree is the same way, and they were preachers, doctors, and farmers (or all three)…

    Clayton- Amen. And yes, I believe they do. Mutual support IS critical, not only to the family, but the others in the field.

  5. Up early, because the shoulder ache voted twice. The rehab discussion got it right. An injured limb or joint needs to regain range of motion and strength, and it takes time. Muscle memory has to relearn or adjust subtle changes from surgery, when thing went back into place a little different than original. Movies never show any follow-ups for complications. Fargo is a good character example for this type of healing, especially this frustration in the sims. All of it wears on your spirit and soul. You did this well, with a lot of your characters.

  6. Unless you buy it after an IED explosion, or going out like Quint in Jaws, death mainly hurts the friends and family.

    No one ever woke up during a Code Blue and said “Ow!”. They were over it, and generally speaking, long gone and well past caring at that point.

    And if they’ve had their threescore-and-ten, or more, it isn’t really necessary to “compartmentalize” their death; someday, it’s going to be everybody’s time.

    The hard ones are the way-too-early ones, especially kids and infants. No one pulls the plug on those for an hour or more, because kids.
    And people doing the codes have kids, or have had.

    Military deaths vary: for most, it’s a growing up process, because it challenges the invincibility of youth. And what pisses you off is the sheer inexplicable randomness of it. Rarely can you say , “Well, Jimmy ate it because he did X stupid thing”, because usually, you did the same thing as Jimmy, you were just five steps ahead of him or ten steps to the left, and sh*t happens. But it takes awhile, and some maturity to process that and come to terms with it.
    Guys who make a career of flying or being around it see more death in peacetime than anyone else, and being the methodical types, try to glean some nugget out of it to make it not a waste. Some lesson to learn, some sort of “let’s not do that again” message from a lost squadron-mate.
    But sometimes, someone goes out, and just doesn’t come back, and no one ever knows why.
    A character in a situation facing their own mortality would go through all five of the Stages of Grieving, randomly, serially, and every which way. Besides fatalism or over-caution, I have to think there would be some sense of hyper-awareness, of processing every sight and sound and sensation, because there was coming a final moment. They’d live every minute; scarcity brings value, something as true with time left on earth as any other thing.
    I don’t notice burnout, and I’ve been doing this 20+ years.
    Sleep and days away from it solve a lot of problems.
    That doesn’t make hard cases and tough beats less, but the end of the day, the person on the gurney isn’t me, or friend or kin, so when Death happens, I’m just the gate agent at the boarding ramp for the ECU (Eternal care Unit). You do your job professionally, you treat the subject with dignity before, during, and after, and you do the best job you can. I imagine it’s like being a concert maestro who knows he’s going to be executed after the last note: you’d want to deliver the most perfect final performance you could, right? It’s exactly like athletes saying “leave everything you’ve got on the field.” Even in a game you think you’re going to lose, it isn’t over until the last whistle.
    If I was half-assing it, it’d be harder on me. I know it would. But if someone dies, and they died after I did every possible thing that could be done, there’s no shame in not being superhuman, because the enemy (Death) gets a vote.

    Chronic illness, and working with it, fills me with sadness when I see people who gave up, or chose stupidly and unwisely, and are finally paying the penalty of one big mistake, or a lifetime of little ones.
    And it instills in me a dread that I do keep locked in some deep, dark basement, to hope to never have to face going slowly, by inches, for any reason. Everyone hopes for “the big one” to just check out relatively quickly and painlessly, ideally while asleep. No one says, “Please, let me lost my mind first, and then have my body hang on, so I can be screaming at the walls, rotting from bed sores, crapping in my diaper, drooling untasted pablum, and not recognizing my family until I finally get a massive septic infection and die.”
    And I can totally respect the person who chooses to go skydiving or mountain climbing, and have an “accident” facing that, choosing to meet Death on their own terms, instead of puttering along until all their own choices are forfeit. Or, not, and deciding to float with the current until The Day.

    My 2¢.

  7. Aesop, nice that you visit here. I visit your site just about daily, and it’s nifty to see you posting on someone’s site who I know personally. The Old NFO himself is a seriously cool guy, and I’m thankful to have gotten the opportunity to have a few enlightening conversations with him.

    BTW, LTUE is a fantastic conference, you should try to make it up there sometime! I know I’m planning on another repeat visit…