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Resilience in Aging

A few years ago, I was invited to give the annual Lehman Lecture in Medical Ethics at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Allegheny is a small liberal arts college dedicated to providing its undergraduates with a well-rounded education, one that encourages interdisciplinary study and community service.

It just so happened that the evening before I flew out of San Antonio on my way east, I attended a lecture at Trinity University given by Former President George H. W. Bush.  His talk was titled, “Life After The Presidency,” and one of the key moments of his speech for me was when he made reference to his skydiving avocation, begun in his eighth decade of life. Even older now, he continues to jump out of airplanes. “People ask me why I do it,” he said. “I tell them there are many reasons but one of the more important ones is that I want to demonstrate that old people can still do things!” 

My visit to Allegheny coincided with “Senior Day”-an annual event sponsored by the college for the benefit of the senior citizens of their community. I had been asked to address this gathering as well and what a special privilege this was for me. I had the pleasure to observe firsthand a working model of seniors being valued in their community. 

Here they were: hundreds of folks, the husbands and wives arm and arm for mutual support, the widows and widowers, some with canes or walkers, others in wheelchairs.  In the foyer of the auditorium, bright young students with smiles on their faces served them coffee. I watched as the seniors made their way down the aisles, laughing and talking with each other, the youngsters among them. 

They were being feted for their age and their wisdom. They were being honored not because they are like the celebrities pictured on the glossy cover of the AARP magazine each month. Not because they were “beautiful seniors” all done up and plasticized. They were being celebrated for just who they are –our parents, our grandparents, our mentors. And this day—Senior Day –was a tribute to their ongoing commitment to their families and to their community.

I told them what President Bush said about why he jumps out of airplanes with a parachute strapped to his back now that he is an octogenarian. And I had many more stories to tell about my own patients: the 75-year-old woman who continues to care for foster children; the 88-year-old man who organizes senior education classes in a program now with over 500 enrollees; the 76-year-old grandmother who hasn’t missed her weekly turn at her church’s soup kitchen in 15 years; the woman who at age 81 turned her sun porch into a studio and whose paintings sell all over the South.

I can go on and on: seniors who have gone into politics, who care for their grandchildren full time in the absence of parents, who have written moving memoirs of their life experiences, who attend writing workshops and poetry readings, who give generously of their time and money to community events and non-profit organizations.

The word gerontologists use to describe these folks is “resilient.” In recent years, the study of resilience in aging has come into its own. A recent book (to which I have made a contribution)—”Resilience in Aging: Concepts, Research, Outcomes,” edited by Resnick, B., et al—defines resilience as “a dynamic process of maintaining positive adaptation and effective coping strategies in the face of adversity…or challenge, whether it be physical, psychological, economic, political, environmental, or social.”

Whether or not resilience is process or character trait—or both—is still being studied, but, in the main, resilient individuals are self-confident and know their own strengths and limitations. Five themes arise when interviewing resilient individuals:

–Equanimity: maintaining a balanced perspective on life.

–Perseverance: continuing to strive and cope in spite of adversity.

–Self-Reliance: belief in one’s abilities.

–Existential Aloneness: reveling in one’s own uniqueness and the belief in the continuity of the self across time.

–Spirituality/Meaningfulness: enabling the individual to draw conclusions as to why events occur and embrace the need for change, flexibility and growth.

One application of the scientific literature may be to identify interventions such as life review or reminiscence—or other creative processes such as art and music and dance—that tap into resilience, and thus might stimulate or enhance it in order to facilitate successful aging. What I witnessed on Senior Day at Allegheny College was a wonderful example of this.

At the end of my talk, twenty or more Allegheny College students stood up at the front of the auditorium holding signs. “Come with me if you want to attend a class on Romantic Poetry,” said one. Another read, “Come learn about Molecular Biology.”  Another, “Learn more about Bioethics.” The choices were many, rich, and varied. The folks in attendance were thrilled as they talked excitedly among themselves to decide where to go, whom to follow. I wanted to stay, to learn, to be a part of this vibrant community. But my trip was over.

What a different place America would be if every small town, every city throughout this land had a Senior Day like the one I was privileged to be a part of in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Perhaps this is something all of us—citizens, businessmen, medical professionals, politicians and educators—can strive to facilitate.

 

Written by: Jerald Winakur, MD, F.A.C.P., C.M.D

JERALD WINAKUR, M.D., F.A.C.P., C.M.D. practiced internal and geriatric medicine for 36 years  and is a Clinical Professor of Medicine and an Associate Faculty member at the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He speaks and lectures on ethical caregiving in aging America. His book, “Memory Lessons: A Doctor’s Story,” is about the trials and joys of caring for his father with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Doing Something For the Soul: Compassion Fatigue

Lyndon Johnson was fond of telling a story about a job applicant for switchman on a railroad. Asked, “What would you do if you saw a train coming from the west at 60 miles an hour?” answered, “I would switch that train to the eastbound track.” “Well, what would you do if you saw a train coming from the east at 60 miles per hour?” He answered logically, “I would switch that train to the westbound track.”

The interviewer heightened the situation. “What would you do if you saw an eastbound train coming at 60 mph and a westbound train at 60 mph? Could you handle that pressure? What would you do?”

“I would run and get my brother.”

“What! Why would you do that?” the interviewer sputtered.

“Because my brother ain’t never seen a train wreck before!”

The field of compassionate caring is littered with “train wrecks.” Good people who have experienced, seen, heard “too much.” Some are quick to explain, “I love working with the clients but…it’s the paperwork, the office bureaucracy, the regulations, the turf battles that undermine my compassion.”

Many in death, dying and bereavement have heard, “Oh, I could never do what you do!” What gets subtly communicated is that I must have some “gift” or “specialness” that undergirds my work with the bereaving. Unfortunately, this notion can lead to an assumption, “Well, I am gifted!” which can cause me to ignore critical warning signals. Given how electronic automobile dashboards are these days, a particular warning can be threatening or challenge my priorities for the day. So, I may just ignore a warning signal to get on down the road.

Compassion wornness is epidemic throughout the community of care giving. One too many yeses leads to an ambush, “I cannot do this anymore.” Suddenly, working in some big box store seems appealing. Indeed, in some caring organizations, more and more work—particularly paperwork and documentation—is spiritually and emotionally draining and threatens our effectiveness and our personal relationships. The ubiquitous cell phone and other electronic “machines” which are, admittedly, so helpful can become intrusive and oppressive. Many working in the field of compassionate care have no “off” button. Thus, one can be on a well-deserved vacation or day off and never vacate the electronic office. Ever said, “Oh, I’m just going to check my email….” and look up an hour later?

What are some warning signals of intrusion?

Electronic density. E.M. Hallowell at Harvard warns, “Never before in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points. Everywhere, people rely on their cell phones, email, and digital assistants in the race to gather and transmit data, plans, and ideas faster and faster.” The latest intrusion “trumps” the previous latest intrusion.

Rebooted personal woundedness. All of us have psychological material we have stuffed into “baggies” to deal with “later.” Thus, as we receive the narratives of the bereaving, some words and phrases sound so familiar to our realities that it takes great discipline to concentrate on listening.

David Crenshaw reports that repeated exposure to these narratives triggers our own pasts (and not-so-pasts), personal wounds and traumas, and reminds us of our own worst fears: “My God, this could happen to me!”

Defusing attention deficit trait. Hallowell insists that the average employee or professional today wrestles with three “hot buttons”: distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience. That inner frenzy can be driven by the “Employee of the Year” app—the continuous reminders that we are being evaluated and, if a staff cutback should prove necessary, the amount of work we produce keeps us valued by management. Seldom do we have adequate time to complete one task, without a request of directive interfering. Or a colleague asking, “Do you have a minute?” (And that will mean thirty minutes minimum.) Not surprisingly, some come in early or stay late to “catch up” or “to get things done” only to wish that those items would stay “done”!

Hallowell convinces me that he has been investigating my work day. “When you are confronted with the sixth decision after the fifth interruption in the midst of a search for the ninth missing piece of information. . .and the twelfth impossible request has blipped unbidden across your computer screen, your brain begins to panic!” Humans juggle so many electronic interruptions that our souls are being depleted. Not surprisingly, a sense of chronic exhaustion is second nature in this field. Some “forget” things but laugh it off as a “senior moment.” Research, however, suggests that we experience numeric overload. We are keeping track of too many numerals. Think of all the phone numbers you keep on the edge of your brain, all the security codes you must punch in before an alarm sounds, and all those endless passwords. We offer compassion despite a nagging hum in our brains.

Diffusing noise and racket. Compassionate humans are bombarded with noise, racket and sound. Pause at an intersection and the airwaves we share with others is overwhelmed by the volume of another’s radio, particularly the “Boom-thumpa-boom!” variety. Never have I groaned, “That is the loudest Chopin I have ever heard!” More problematic is noise that is impossible to decipher. For too many, silence is an impossibility.

I may be “preaching to the choir.” You may counter, “I knew all this before I read this far” or “He sounds like he’s been snooping in my office. What can a caring human do about these intruders?

Deliberately and intentionally make silence. Between appointments or in traffic, what “sounds” are coming from your dashboard? Even if you are not consciously listening to talk show patter or the news of disasters here or somewhere, your brain soaks in the noise like a thirsty sponge! Suppose for an hour or a day you did not immediately reach for your radio dial. I once drove 600 miles back to Kansas City without turning on the radio. I arrived so much calmer than after previous trips. After I come home from leading grief groups, I “make” silence. Often the only noise is the ticking of a clock.

Fast from electronic intrusion. Fewer Americans can go to dinner—whether fast food or higher dollar meals—without electronic gadgets. As I ate dinner recently in a wonderful Thai restaurant, the three individuals at the next table were “working” their electronics. I overheard no conversation. (I also noticed they were shoveling in their meal, apparently to match their electronic surfing.)

While leaders in the field of spirituality insist that we need more time free of electronic intrusion, there always seems to be a new update on the electronic horizon that promises more speed and more accessibility.

Show up with 100 percent you! It is challenging to be present 100 percent to a client or a counselee or a committee. Confession: I am so schedule-focused, and spend so much time mentally checking off “to do’s” of the morning or afternoon, that I am not listening closely to the spaces between the griever’s words. Did I notice what had not been said because I am already thinking about my next appointment or place I need to be in an hour? One therapist friend described meeting Eleanor Roosevelt; her intention was to quickly shake Eleanor’s hand. Instead, Eleanor held on to her hand, despite the crowd, and asked, “And what are you planning to do with your life?” For two minutes, my friend recalled, “it was like I was the most important person in her world. She listened with her eyes. I have never forgotten that moment.”

Before rushing from our car, office, cubicle, or electronic device, take a moment to borrow one of Anne Lamott’s three essential prayers: “Help!” “Thanks” or “Wow.” Whatever your spirituality, these brief prayers communicate: “Help me to be fully present to this individual who has a claim on my time!” I have come to believe individuals have something to say that I need to hear either for my professional work or for my personhood.

Go ten! I attended an intriguing presentation by a geriatric psychiatrist who asked participants to think about our childhoods, particularly age ten. We were instructed to think about what we had enjoyed doing. What brought us delight? Then we were asked, “Is there any hint of that delight or activity in your life now?” As a compassion dispenser, what are you doing (at age 30, 40, 50, or 60) that you did when you were age ten? Why did you “delete” that activity? How might you resurrect that? Simply, at age ten, we spent a major portion of the day nourishing our minds, souls, and our bodies—and we miss that.

Jackie Kennedy, late in her career as a book editor, was asked why she invested so much time on book projects that would never become bestsellers. Jackie thoughtfully responded, “Every so often it is good to do something for the soul.”

What have you done for your soul lately?

 

Written by:
Harold Ivan Smith, DMin, FT

 

Additional Non-Death Bereavement Resources – All Losses Need Support

It is essential to our wellbeing for us to process a loss, whether it be after a lingering illness or a sudden death. When other non-death losses are suffered, individuals often do not have a support system to share their sorrow. As with other grief reactions, processing these emotions is necessary if healing is to happen.

Professor of Gerontology Dr. Kenneth Doka routinely explains in books and lectures on grief management that “there are circumstances in which a person experiences a sense of loss but does not have a socially recognized right, role, or capacity to grieve. In these cases, the grief is disenfranchised.” Unlike a loss to death, when these losses happen there is no funeral to acknowledge and honor the loss, no grave to visit, no covered dishes dropped at the door, nor sitting in the company of fellow mourners and supporting each other through the tears.

Often people do not receive the support and comfort they need in order to grieve properly, and can be vulnerable to loneliness and serious, long-term depression.

Examples of bereaved persons who may feel disenfranchised include couples who have miscarriages, given up a child for adoption, women or men whose spouses are missing in military action, and those whose loved ones have died from difficult-to-accept deaths like suicide.

Those struggling with Alzheimer’s and dementia also may feel disenfranchised. The bereaved in these situations may not be grieving loss of physical life, but of crucial intangibles, without which their lives and families will never be the same.

No matter the type of loss, grief is grief and it needs to be heard and validated.

 

Submitted by Darwin L. Huartson, M.Div. BCC, Porter Loring Community Coordinator

Connecting with Those Who are Grieving in the Digital Age

The digital age has brought many changes to our world and we now live in a time when many people are dependent on mobile devices.

Recently I was on a layover at the airport and snapped a picture (with my cell phone camera, of course) of three individuals who were sitting in a small restaurant alone at separate tables. Each person was riveted to a mobile device.

Technology seems to be evidence of the six degrees of separation theory, which is the concept that everyone is six or fewer steps away, by introduction, from any other person in the world. The internet is a great tool and, in some ways, has made many things in our life easier, more accessible, and enjoyable. Parents, day school teachers, students and grandparents reach out daily with emails, texts, and Instagram pictures!

However, when we are grieving, there is a need to connect with people face to face. When experiencing grief, being in the presence of others brings comfort, hope, and healing. Dr. Alan Wolfelt writes about the importance of being a companion to others when they are grieving. He writes, “Companioning is being present to another person’s pain, it is not about taking away the pain. It is about walking alongside of, it is not leading, but instead it is listening with the heart, not analyzing with the head.”

Compassion for fellow San Antonians has been a part of Porter Loring since the doors opened in 1918. This includes bereavement support to anyone in the community (at no charge) who is struggling with the loss of a loved one, as well as a commitment to providing grief education to those in the professional community. The support is made available through our staff, educational resources, in-services and workshops.

As we move into 2019, Porter Loring trusts that we will continue to be a resource and collaborate with you in being companions to those who are grieving. If you are affiliated with a hospice, hospital, or faith community, know that we can provide educational resources and in-services for you and your staff.

Listed below are Professional Caregivers Trainings that we can provide on-site for you and your staff. CEUs can be made available if there is interest.

Professional Caregiver Trainings

  • Working Together to Make a Meaningful Transfer
  • Taking Care of Ourselves When Caring for Those Who Are Grieving
  • Connecting with Those Who are Grieving
  • Difficult Conversations: “What Matters Most”
  • Heartfelt Word®

 

Submitted by Darwin L. Huartson, M.Div. BCC, Porter Loring Community Coordinator

In Honor of our Centennial…

From the influenza epidemic of post-war San Antonio in 1918 to the city-wide Tricentennial celebration of 2018, four generations of the Loring family have led Porter Loring Mortuaries in caring for San Antonio community in sickness and in health for 100 years.   This tradition of caring for our fellow San Antonians has been a part of Porter Loring Mortuaries since the doors opened at our first location on Jefferson Street in 1918, and the foundation of our work that will carry us into the next century.

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In fact, as we poured over our extensive archives, we came across an actual full newspaper from September 1918 – four months after our doors opened for the very first time. In that very newspaper I came across one of our first advertisements! Most of the articles we found detailed the funeral home’s collaboration with and support of the community, generation after generation.

In brainstorming ideas for our 100th anniversary, we had a few goals in mind: we knew we somehow wanted to give back to the community; we knew we wanted to incorporate as much of our history as possible; and, we knew we wanted to make sure every facet of the year embraces the standard of operations Porter Loring, Sr., envisioned for his funeral home: professionalism, care, humbleness, and respect to all.

Therefore, we decided for our centennial year we would honor two community partners, not only for the vast amount of good they do in and for our community, but also for the long-standing relationships we have with each of them.  We selected The Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas and the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio, an affiliate of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America as our Centennial Charitable Honorees because each exemplifies the legacy in their collective work, words and actions on behalf of those they serve.

Uniting the Past with the Future

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Porter Loring, Sr., served as the first president of the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio when it opened in 1939 under The Boys Club of America designation. The mission of the organization is the same today as it was in its earliest establishment: to inspire youth to achieve their full potential in a safe, positive and engaging environment that promotes education, health and character development

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The Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas (CBCST) provides a safe environment in which to foster healing for grieving children and youth, their families, and the community through a variety of outreach programs and services.  Rising generations of the Loring family embrace Porter Loring, Sr.’s model of community advocacy through their commitment to the CBCST since its inception in 1997.  Paula Loring has been closely involved with the organization, inspiring its mission as a valued member of the Center’s Advisory Board. Porter Loring Mortuaries also refers many of the families we assist to the Children’s Bereavement Center for continued care when children are involved.

Original Ideals Spur Future Growth

As we move into the next 100 years, we at Porter Loring Mortuaries’ have refined and expanded our scope of services over the years to better assist families’ ever-changing personal needs and social customs. Advanced planning and personalized funeral arrangements provide avenues for practical and meaningful remembrances.

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The recent addition of Penelope, a hypoallergenic Lagotto Romagnolo puppy, offers uplifting emotional and physical encouragement to families and children in times of grief.  Porter Loring Family Care Services offers bereavement support programs for Porter Loring families, as well as the entire San Antonio community, to help navigate the challenges that follow the loss of a loved one.   The Community Liaison program provides educational opportunities for the larger health care community and churches throughout the year.  While new ways of comfort and meaning are a response to change, all demonstrate the original vision of respect for the families served at Porter Loring Mortuaries.

We value the rich history we have with our community partners, our employee family – both past and present – and the families in and around San Antonio we have had the privilege to serve. And we look forward to the numerous ways we can work together in caring for future generations.  After all, we fully intend to continue our tradition of caring as we begin our second century of serving the people of San Antonio.

The Healing Elements of Water in Grief

Water is of major importance to all living things. Approximately sixty percent of our body weight is made up of water. Every cell, tissue, and organ needs water to work properly.  We don’t realize how much we need it until we’re really thirsty. Yet it is water that sustains, cleanses, strengthens, nurtures, and heals us. It can calm and relax us as we work and play.

Just as grief impacts us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – water can also promote healing at each of these levels. Because grief is constant and relentless, excessive amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol, are produced.  This can create anxiety-like symptoms that impact our sleep, make it difficult to concentrate, disrupt our thinking, and interfere with our ability to be with others. It’s like we’re in a fog.

It may be difficult to comprehend that a simple intervention of drinking more water can help. It requires that we be intentional about what we take for granted. Drinking water is crucial to clearing the fog and regaining balance, resulting in increased energy levels and one’s ability to focus.

Drinking more water than usual flushes out excessive toxins and wastes. If we don’t rid our body of these excess toxins, we compromise our immune system. Water acts as a shock absorber. It rehydrates us, keeping our body temperatures normal. It also lubricates and cushions joints, and protects sensitive tissues.

Another perspective on water is the value of giving ourselves permission to cry. It has been found that people who resist crying are at higher risk for ulcers, colitis, migraine headaches, and other psychosomatic illnesses. Research also shows that people who are able to shed tears are more likely to better handle stressful situations.

Crying is a natural way of releasing cortisol. It has been shown in research that the chemistry in tears of grief is different from other tears, and that crying in grief actually releases the stress hormone cortisol. That is why when we cry, we actually feel a sense of relief and release.

Both drinking water and “lamenting through tears” nurture and sustain us, promoting physical, emotional, and spiritual healing in the journey of grief.

Written by:
Celeste Miller, Porter Loring Bereavement Coordinator
Darwin L. Huartson, Porter Loring Community Coordinator

Welcoming Penelope to Porter Loring

There is a growing awareness of the value of service animals in our culture today. In actuality, they have been around for a long time, with the first seeing eye dog dating back to 1930. There have always been people with disabilities who found creative ways to train their dogs to help them with tasks they could not do themselves, such as opening the door or alerting them when the telephone rings.

Penelope

The study of animal behavior and brain research has expanded our knowledge about dog intelligence and what they are capable of. We have discovered that dogs can sense and smell when a person is about to have a seizure or when a diabetic needs insulin. The real breakthrough in the use of service dogs is the scientific validation of what we have known all along – dogs know how to connect with human beings in a way that opens our hearts and calms our nervous system.

I saw a picture of Penelope on Facebook the other day. She is the service dog in training for Porter Loring Mortuaries. I focused my eyes on this adorable ball of fur and imagined the softness of her curls, the warmth of her tongue and the deep gaze of her eyes. The longer I looked, the more I noticed my breath slowing and my body relaxing. The thought of holding her was calming.  This assured me that Penelope will be a special healing presence for families, and that she will do it with grace in her own unassuming “doggie” way.

Death is stressful for even the healthiest families. It is a “twilight zone” experience when everyone knows something big has changed, but no one knows what it will be like now that one member of their tribe is gone. We feel awkward around one another. We want to comfort and be comforted, but we aren’t sure how to offer or receive it. We have to plan a service for someone who can no longer guide us or tell us what they want. We might have to talk to children about why their grandparent, parent or sibling will not be at home anymore. We may have to see family members that we have not seen in years or that we are feuding with. There will be moments when we feel all alone and a little lost in a crowd of well-meaning people.

Imagine how Penelope will help…

She puts her head on the shaking knee of a man who is planning a funeral for his father. She senses this man’s deep desire to honor his dad and the concern he has for his surviving mother. Unconsciously, he reaches down and strokes her head. He finds himself taking a deep breath, his leg stops shaking and he relaxes for a moment.

Then Penelope wanders into a visitation room full of people. She doesn’t know the story, but she senses the tension. The room seems to be divided. There is a woman crying with her grown children around her on one side and another woman facing the wall with her husband on the other. Penelope quietly lies on the floor and plays with a toy in the middle of the room. It is the “no man’s land” between the two families. Slowly, people begin to notice and are entertained by her antics. When she rolls on her back and holds the toy up in her paws like a cat, the crying woman cannot help but laugh. The woman with her face to the wall turns to see what is so funny, and as she does her eyes meet with her sister’s across the room. For just a moment, they soften and relax. A space is opened for them to sense their longing for one another.

There will be other visitations where a young boy is acting up, feeling out of place and not understanding what is happening. There are so many people he does not know, and the people he does know seem different, distracted and upset. He is hyper, running around the room, until he falls and hits his head on the floor. Crying, frustrated and confused, he won’t let anyone touch him. Penelope silently walks over with her tail wagging and licks his face. He stops crying and watches as she lies down on his legs and settles in. He begins to pet her head as he looks into the crowd for his mother. The mom walks over, kneels down, and they stroke the dog together. The little boy takes a deep breath and leans against her.

Then there will be teenagers. Penelope will have a special affinity for them. They will know how to silently convey their story to her by looking into her eyes and rubbing her ears. She will provide solace when they are feeling lost and comfort when they cannot bring themselves to seek it from anyone else.  Teenagers will be able to connect with her when they can’t with anyone else.

I am grateful that Penelope will be a part of the Porter Loring team. She will provide courage when there is fear. Comfort when there is sorrow. Connection when there is loneliness. Wholeness when there is brokenness. And she will do it by simply being willing to be with you.

Welcome to the Porter Loring family, Penelope.


 

paula-loringPaula Loring, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist. She was the Director of Porter Loring Family Care Services for many years. Currently she is an Equine Therapist at Spirit Reins in Liberty Hill, working with traumatized children and their families.

To “Group” or “Not to Group”

How to help someone decide if attending a bereavement support group will be helpful?

Making a decision to embrace the pain of losing someone takes courage. Many people find it helpful after the death of a loved one to attend a bereavement support group.  However, making an initial decision to attend a group can be in itself overwhelming.

Bereaved individuals will often turn to professional caregivers with questions about bereavement support groups. We hope that this blog will give you some insight into helping individuals decide if the support group fits for them or not.  After a death, there are many uncertainties a bereaved person is experiencing and joining a group may very well be one of them. Questions that may be swirling around for the potential group member is “Will I be forced to talk about my experiences?  Will I be criticized or analyzed for what I say?  Will I feel better or worse after hearing other individual’s stories?  You have to admit, it seems counter-intuitive to believe that sharing one’s own story and listening to other’s grief journey can be helpful.

As an advocate for the bereaved, share with them options that may be available.  Do your homework and see what groups are available in the community.  You want to make sure that they will be attending a group that has a trained facilitator.   We encourage interviewing the facilitator or talk to others that have attended the group.  People need to feel that the group is a safe environment in which they can talk, listen, and simply be.

When interviewing the facilitator, you want to know they see grief not a problem to be solved, but rather a process where people can embrace their pain, and experience healing that allows for growth, change, and transformation

Support groups give people an opportunity to connect with others who are grieving and learn that they are not, and that they have something to offer each other. Given that, we encourage potential group members to think about a couple of questions to ask before joining a group.

First of all, are you a “group-type” person?    If you are a very private person you might find groups to be intrusive and uncomfortable.

Another question to ponder is what kind of grief load are you carrying?  Do you have a complicated situation that needs to be processed before you are ready to attend?  If so it can be helpful to sort out these issues with a professional counselor before attending a support group.

One of the biggest advantages to being part of a support group is that one realizes that they are not alone in their journey.  Often when individuals share their feelings and experiences, there is a sense of relief and renewed energy that comes from being able to be vulnerable and honest in a group with others who understand.

We invite readers to reflect and respond to the question, “To group or not to group…”

Darwin Huartson, M.Div., BCC

Celeste Miller, MA, LPC

Holding on While Letting Go

The concept of “holding on” while “letting go” is counterintuitive. It doesn’t really make sense, especially when you are fearful or apprehensive of what lies ahead. One is reminded of the image of a trapeze artist. The only way forward is to “let go” and trust that he/she will catch the next bar.

The same might be said about the grief journey. There is no magic pill or wand that will take away our pain. We will not “get over” the loss of a loved one, but we will learn how to live with it. We can and will heal, rebuilding our lives around the loss we have suffered. We will be whole again, but we will never be the same.

Sometimes in the grief journey we might be confused about what it means to let go. One person said, letting go seems like I am betraying my husband’s memory. Another widow told the support group, “I don ‘t want to let go because I am afraid that I will forget him.” That’s what memories are for. They are like mini visitations becoming a bridge rather than the pain. Memories heal in grief and keep us connected to those we have lost, while resisting memories can disconnect us from our loved ones and keep us stuck. Holding onto memories is the beginning of letting go. How do you let go? You let yourself go backwards in order to go forwards. This is the opposite of what you would think.

Grief is a time when you review the whole relationship. Another way to look at it is, when we acknowledge our pain, it allows us to hold onto the person and not the pain. To “work your grief” is to process the pain. Crying and other forms of active grieving help move our grief. Recognize that feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, remorse, and relief are all normal responses and help us to heal in our grief.

Healing begins when we allow ourselves to go back and remember. In the early months of grief, it seems that any memory brings tears and pain. It hurts to remember the happy times as much as it hurts to remember the sad times. It just hurts to remember. Embrace your pain rather than fight it. You are doing some of your best grief work as you let yourself remember. Memories heal as they hurt. They become the threads that stitch our broken hearts back together.

By processing the pain and letting it pass through us, it becomes a purer sorrow, freeing you to remember – “holding on while letting go.” Healthy grieving was expressed by a man who said, “I’ve found a place in my heart where I can always access her.” He had moved from missing her so much physically to knowing her in spirit and finding a permanent place of belonging in his heart. This realization helped him to “let go,” freeing him to invest energy in his new life.

Creating rituals is a helpful way to let go of pain. One woman in a support group shared with the group that she was bringing a “dump bag” to the next group meeting. She invited others to deposit objects, thoughts, and other things that they didn’t want to be haunted by.

When we experience healing in the pain, we are freed to remember those we’ve lost with a sense of joy and gratitude and free to live more fully in the present.

We invite you to share your thoughts and/or rituals that allow you to “hold on while letting go” and how that ongoing connection gives purpose and energy for living.

Written by: 

Celeste Miller, MA, LPC, Porter Loring Mortuaries Bereavement Coordinator
Darwin Huartson, M.Div., BCC, Porter Loring Mortuaries Community Coordinator

Introduction

Who wants to talk about death, funerals, or grieving? In our society, most people do not. It makes them feel an assortment of emotions from being uncomfortable to scared to sad or angry, which is all understandable. Our hope for this blog is not necessarily to break those emotions down to acceptance, but rather to let you know what you feel is normal and to educate you on a variety of topics.

We will be posting articles from our President, Helen Loring Dear, our Bereavement Coordinator, Celeste Miller, M.A., LPC, our Community Coordinator, Darwin Huartson, M.Div., BCC, and possible guest writers as well.

If you have a topic you would like for us to possibly discuss, please email us at plm-sa@porterloring.com.

Helen

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