We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Heal: Processing Grief through the Written Word

Grief and loss are a part of the human experience, particularly so in medicine, where we witness both life-altering moments and death on a daily basis. Many of us were socialized to believe we need to grin and bear it, to move on with our practice and our lives without understanding and engaging with how grief and loss affect us as people and practitioners. Amid COVID-19, grief has become particularly pronounced as families are separated from their hospitalized loved ones, we are often engaging with patients through a Zoom screen, and many of our patients are dying, often alone. How might the reading and writing of stories help us to shine a light on the invisible suffering many of us bear, particularly these days?

In this session, Sunita Puri, MD, discusses how writers have explored the territory of grief and loss in healing ways, and how those of us working with patients on the front line might do the same. Following the presentation, Schwartz Center Chief Medical Officer Beth Lown, MD, moderates a brief Q&A.

View the webinar here. 

Sunita Puri is the Medical Director of the Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care Service at the Keck Hospital and Norris Cancer Center of the University of Southern California, where she also serves as Chair of the Ethics Committee. She graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Anthropology and studied Modern History at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. She completed medical school and residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, and fellowship training in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at Stanford University.

Sunita is the recipient of writing residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Ucross Foundation, and the Mesa Refuge. She was a finalist for the PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship in 2015. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and JAMA – Internal Medicine.

At USC, Sunita is heavily involved in medical education. She teaches principles of palliative medicine and advanced clinical ethics to medical students, residents, and fellows, and has been interviewed by the New York Times, the BBC, and NPR to discuss topics ranging from physician aid-in-dying to the experience of practicing palliative care. In 2018, she received the Etz Chaim Tree of Life Award from the USC Keck School of Medicine, awarded annually to a member of the faculty who, in the eyes of the campus community, models and provides humanistic and compassionate care.