The Emotional Labor of Personal Grief in Palliative Care: Balancing Caring and Professional Identities

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Abstract

The paid provision of care for dying persons and their families blends commodified emotion work and attachments to two often-conflicting role identities: the caring person and the professional. We explore how health care employees interpret personal grief related to patient death, drawing on interviews with 12 health care aides and 13 nurses. Data were analyzed collaboratively using an interpretively embedded thematic coding approach and constant comparison. Participant accounts of preventing, postponing, suppressing, and coping with grief revealed implicit meanings about the nature of grief and the appropriateness of grief display. Employees often struggled to find the time and space to deal with grief, and faced normative constraints on grief expression at work. Findings illustrate the complex ways health care employees negotiate and maintain both caring and professional identities in the context of cultural and material constraints. Implications of emotional labor for discourse and practice in health care settings are discussed.

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