Home Speech-Language Pathology Working Through Grief: Two SLPs Share Their Stories

Working Through Grief: Two SLPs Share Their Stories

by Phuong Palafox
written by and
Shot of an unidentifiable woman consoling her friend by holding her hand

Twelve years separated their clinical fellowship (CF) experiences, and one fate united them. Their paths intersected personally and professionally when Phuong Lien Palafox became Leah Joseph’s CF supervisor and they learned of their similar experiences. Here are their CF stories. 

Phuong’s CF story 2004

I couldn’t do it anymore. I quit my doctoral program, and the next week I found out Má’s cancer had returned. The timing was impeccable, and I moved home to be with my mother and start my clinical fellowship. My days were spent making mistakes, learning and becoming a professional. My evenings were spent by my mother’s side. Most of our time was filled with shared meals and shared stories. She continued to mother, and I happily obliged. One weekend, she accompanied me to my campus to help set up my speech room. That December, she passed away on a cold morning. I’m glad I had that year with Má—she saw me become a speech-language pathologist.

Leah’s CF story 2016

The day was November 25, 2016, my 25th birthday. Every year, momma would call me to retell my birth story and how much joy it brought her. That year, she started the conversation with, “I’ll never forget that day 24 years ago.” I interjected, “Twenty-five years ago, mom.” By that time, she had already started showing signs of cognitive decline. Little did I know, my 25th birthday would be the last birthday that I would hear my momma’s voice. She passed away two months later from complications related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). My mom’s life lessons and legacy were what gave me the strength to continue my journey to become a licensed SLP.

5 considerations for the SLP heart

As clinical professionals, we focus on the needs of our clients and students. We also need to consider our personal needs. From an SLP beginning her career and a seasoned SLP, here are considerations for the grieving SLP heart:

  1. Ask for help: Getting help is okay, and, at times, it’s the only solution. During her time of crisis, Leah quickly informed others of her absence. A co-worker helped to notify her families. Seek help and then accept it. We promise you’ll do your fair share of helping others, too.
  2. Be okay with taking time off: We both took about a week off. Know that you just experienced a trauma. A reprieve from work will allow you to better process new information when you return.

Take care of necessary action items and begin grieving.

  1. Grief does not end: Grief is not linear, and there’s not an end to it. When it chooses to show up at work, honor your feelings. Find your way to survive the moment. For Phuong, setting aside 20 minutes to actively grieve before the work day helped.
  2. Share your memories: Sharing memories of your loved one is okay. During an initial “check in” for a social skills group, Phuong shared that she missed her mother. One student reached his hand out and said, “It’s okay, Ms. Phuong.” The authentic moment, coincidentally, also served as a functional opportunity to address socio-emotional goals.
  3. You will find joy again: A time will come when you will be able to immerse yourself in daily routines—this includes responding to emotions other than sadness. Know that joy and grief can exist in the same space.

Surviving together

Phuong and Leah do not believe in coincidences. This mutual experience united them in both a personal and professional way. And, as fate would have it, their shared path has brought healing to these two SLP hearts.

Phuong Lien Palafox, MS, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual speech-language pathologist at Bilinguistics. She specializes in service delivery models, literacy-based interventions, students from diverse backgrounds (including poverty) and social skills for children with autism. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity, and 16, School-Based Issues. phuong.palafox@bilinguistics.com

Leah Joseph, MA, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual speech-language pathologist at Bilinguistics. She focuses on providing early childhood assessments and intervention in private and school-based settings, as well as on accent modification.  leah.joseph@bilinguistics.com 




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