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.