Grief a lonely place in the health care system

The comments section is closed.

  • connie gravelle says:

    why are there no doctors in Ottawa ontario who deal specifically with with complicated grief.

    I think this is absolutely terrible.

  • Margaret deMello says:

    No, people are not getting the support they need, and that is an understatement.
    Compassionate leave benefits, bereavement workshops? For Pete’s sake, patients are getting kicked out of palliative care if they don’t die in the time expected. I know this from experience, and it’s not hard to validate, however, it seems easy, maybe preferable to ignore these days. Relatives are intimidated and placed in conflict with physicians who want to hasten death in order to free up beds, for the sake of cost effectiveness. There is absolutely no doubt about these conditions and I’m not so sure that loss of a child is greater, or more deserving of decent care, than someone’s mother, lover or spouse of 60 years, or for that matter, one’s own impending death. I don’t think we can make assumptions about the bottomless depths of grief when a dear one dies, we cannot presume to measure it. We cannot ration medical care based on an arbitrary value of one’s loss. (Although to be sure, in my experience the loss of a child tends to deeply touch more people, is more poignant, and is a particularly cruel trauma for parents ) Margaret deMello, MSW, Vancouver

    Pressure is placed on terminally ill, vulnerable patients and distressed caregivers/families to artificially hasten a loved one’s death…instead of using the time they have to prepare and grieve. We are also moving , well we now have in place a medical system that is more like American medicine, than Canadians’ vision of Medicare.

    • sam plover says:

      Good comments.
      Exactly, even ones own impending death. We will all be there one day, We will grieve our own illnesses, loss of existence, we will grieve, knowing loved ones left will grieve.
      I have a huge concern with the DSM to begin with but supposedly we are not allowed to grieve in certain ways or length of time. That inclusion and many others are actually good because the DSM is looking a bit like the funny papers.
      Grief is something that every animal experiences and it can take some to the great depth. It should not be seen as illness, but rather the sufferer, we should grieve with them. Never should a grieving person be made to feel that they are grieving beyond a ‘normal’ grief.
      It should not be ‘treated’ from a psychological standpoint, but rather a village of caring people.
      It would be great if hospitals had volunteers who have no experience or ‘training’, nor a phd, but rather simply a good heart, simply to allow the grieving.
      We make things so complicated by all the ‘taught’ mechanisms of behaviours (how we should act) what we should say, and judging the grieving.
      In my grief, I need to be understood in my reality.

  • A senior's friend says:

    When survivors of perceived medical injury complain to the College, or initiate a lawsuit, they are often suffering a grief reaction. I know a senior who had wrong patient surgery and his grief turned into complicated grief. His complicated grief was helped somewhat by my listening to him, repeatedly, as he told his story to me. It was helped by my investigating what had happened to him. He had wrong patient surgery, but at the time of his lawsuit, he didn’t know it. He only knew that before the surgery he was well, and after the surgery he wasn’t, and he blamed the doctor. I blamed the doctor as well, but today, I can see that the doctor could have been experiencing a “complicated grief” at the time of the wrong patient surgery. Quite possibility, he was suffering from sleep deprivation as well.

    The CMPA should have given the senior an apology and offered him some compensation. They should have cared for the doctor proactively; ensured he received healing from what appears to me to be complicated grief. Instead, the CMPA got a biased medical expert to defend the care provided.

    Today, wrong patient surgery is considered a “never event”. In my opinion, it should not have been defended, and it certainly should not have been successfully defended. The CMPA states that they “Empower better healthcare”, and they learn from cases which are “resolved”. This case was “settled” but it was never “resolved”.

    The CMPA intimidated the senior into dropping his lawsuit; that was the settlement. Two years after the “settlement”, the senior put in a complaint to the College. The CMPA had learned that they could successfully defend wrong patient surgery and from this learning, they were able to successfully defend against this gentleman’s complaint. The College completely dismissed this senior’s complaint.

    The senior appealed the College decision, but the CMPA successfully defended the College’s decision. The Ombudsman was contacted, but he did not have jurisdiction over the College, just the appeal process, and the process was carried out correctly, therefore there was no justice for the injured patient who had wrong patient surgery.

    The CMPA is a powerful organization that protects the reputation of Canadian doctors. I believe Canadian doctors, through their CMPA, causes injured patients Complicated Grief, and I believe this needs to be looked at proactively. Complicated Grief can be proactively prevented with “no-fault” for medical errors. Learning can be done from the error, and further harm to injured patients and additional harm to the doctor and his subsequent patients can be avoided.

    • Margaret deMello says:

      RE CMPA

      So true. The cavalier and careless attitude of GP’s these days is despicable. True of specialists as well. They seem to be unaccountable. Part of the problem however, are provincial restrictions which limit the doctor patient ratio, and create long waitlists by rationing services through gatekeeping. So there are diagnostic and treatment delays, a crises model, and slipshod ethics, in a big way. This long ago reached crises proportions and still nothing has been resolved.

    • sam plover says:

      Dear seniors friend.
      I am glad that you were there and stood up to be counted.
      Again and again I have a mind boggling question. What makes medical staff so comfortable to wield such power? We know that quests for control are not from a mentally healthy person, so I question the mental health of the health industry itself. It is akin to many organizations that survive because of power. Power for the good is a good thing. But this thing is a festering sore. It is caused by egos that can break easily.
      The only way to keep that ego from breaking? Be tougher than the next guy. Have at your arsenal protection to the max.
      My rational and insightful side say, this cannot last. People grow, they grow in insightfulness, they lose their fear (cleverly disguised as ‘respect’). Years ago, we had to ‘respect’ all knowing doctors and the law, but it was not respect, it was fear.
      I will not fear, and you have to earn my respect. I pay wages, when I pay wages, why am I paying to be stomped on? It’s craziness to take such hidden abuses, and crazy for the colleges to protect bad service.

      Poor senior, well if they can’t shut people up, they have other ways. I feel sorry for a lot of medical people and even some at the colleges. They took years of training at a young age and are now stuck in a marriage.
      I think many would walk if they could find a half decent paying job. But then, there is the standard of living and it is all just so complex from an emotional point of view.
      I just wish the good medical folks had more power, more support. We need them to become the majority.

  • Shawn Tracy says:

    Thank you for a most timely and thought-provoking article. While there is growing awareness of the stress and strain that family caregivers endure while caring for a loved one who is unwell, not enough attention is paid to the fact that death does not mark the end of the caregiver journey. The grim reality is that caregivers can continue to struggle after the period of caregiving concludes… and, in our highly-fragmented “system” (I use that word loosely), this caregiver distress and grief often goes undetected and therefore untreated. It is long past time that we return to an approach in which the family is the unit of care. Thanks again for raising awareness of this pressing social issue.


Karen Palmer


Karen is the Destination Development and Marketing Coordinator at The Corporation of the County of Prince Edward.

Maureen Taylor


Maureen Taylor is a Physician Assistant who worked as a medical journalist and television reporter for the CBC for two decades.

Francine Buchanan


Francine Buchanan is a mom and primary caregiver to an amazing little boy who is thriving with complex medical needs. When she isn’t watching or playing baseball with her family, she is a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto studying physician/patient communication.

Republish this article

Republish this article on your website under the creative commons licence.

Learn more