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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

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.


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

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