3 Questions for … Gaëlle Bottex
Gaëlle Bottex has been a key staff member of the Center for Prolonged Grief since 2017. She began as a program assistant and is now assistant manager, coordinating the Center’s training workshops and webinars, and providing operational support to research and outreach projects. She will receive her master’s from the Columbia School of Social Work in 2022, in the AGPP track with a focus on children, youth, and families. Bottex was also the editor-in-chief of the Columbia Social Work Review, an annual peer-reviewed journal for up-and-coming scholars. We are pleased to have her featured in our “3 Questions for…” series.
#1: What are the formative experiences and influences that led you to get involved with the work you are currently doing?
I was born in Haiti and immigrated to the United States with my family. After returning for a very illuminating visit in 2011, during the cholera epidemic, I became interested in gaining the skills to devote my time and energy to sustainable health equity and youth development work in Haiti and other countries with similar circumstances in the Global South. Following my undergraduate studies, I came to the Center for Prolonged Grief to work with Dr. Katherine Shear and her team. Like most of us, I had experienced grief and loss in my life, and I saw the universality of grief to human experience. Upon learning more, I discovered the public health and social implications that bereavement can have, especially for young children.
In my time at the Center, I have had the opportunity to work on impactful dissemination work in bereavement, grief, and prolonged grief disorder. I’ve learned of our society’s gaps in caring for and supporting bereaved people, especially during a global health crisis that has exacerbated our country’s bereavement care crisis.
#2: Is there some success that stands out in your mind that you’re really proud of?
A success that I am really proud of is not a singular accomplishment, but rather my personal growth during my time at CSSW. I came into graduate school with the simple goal of completing my education. Instead, with the help of my peers and colleagues, and despite a pandemic, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and have been part of several impactful projects. This resulted in the opportunity to work with faculty, community leaders, and classmates — experiences that would never have happened without the push to challenge myself.
#3: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned doing this work and what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started this work?
I have learned so much in my time at the Center for Prolonged Grief, including that there are no stages of grief, but oscillating waves of varying strengths and emotions that come and go for as long as you live. However, the most important lesson I have learned is that grief work is hopeful work. By the time those experiencing prolonged grief find us, they are, we hope, a step closer to finding solace in adapting to the death of a loved one. This is a lesson that has helped me through tearful phone calls listening to gut-wrenching stories about loss. It is a lesson that makes working in grief a little bit more manageable. It brings me to something I wish I’d known and I would love other people to know: Do not shy away from talking about grief, death, and dying. It shouldn’t always be spoken about in hushed tones. Dr. Kathy Shear taught me that grief is the form love takes when someone we love dies. Telling stories about our loved ones who have died can be very healing, and listening to these stories can make a huge impact on a grieving person’s adaptation.