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Speaker: Coping with grief is part of life
Alan D. Wolfelt autographs one of his books, â€œCompanioning the Bereaved,â€� for Sally Estes, the family services coordinator for Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care in Mount Airy, N.C. (Bulletin photo)
Friday, February 29, 2008
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
More than 200 people attended a grief seminar Thursday to learn how to help people who are repressing grief, rather than dealing with a loss en route to living a more fulfilling life.
The seminar by speaker and author Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., was attended not only by some people grieving, but also by various caregivers and others, including hospices in Virginia and North Carolina, chaplains, clergy, school counselors and teachers, officials from college nursing and social work programs, and registered nurses who are pursuing bachelor's degrees.
John Phillips, director of the nursing program for New College Institute and Radford University, said five nursing students came as part of academic work that is required because the topic of grief either is not in the nursing curricula or is not adequately discussed.
Phillips, who was director of hospice and home care for Memorial Hospital in Martinsville from 2002-06, said people tend to avoid grief.
According to a paper by Wolfelt, avoiding grief can lead to "deterioration of relationships with friends and family; symptoms of chronic physical illness either real or imagined; symptoms of chronic depression, sleeping difficulties and low self-esteem; symptoms of chronic anxiety, agitation, restlessness and difficulty concentrating. This list is not all-inclusive."�
In the introduction to his book "Living in the Shadow of the Ghosts of Grief," Wolfelt wrote: "Attempting to control life losses is one of the ways many people end up running away from having a meaning-filled life. Surrendering to your grief, paradoxically, ushers in the capacity to live your life with a sense of purpose and creative energy."
He wrote that avoiding grief "creates a situation where you are living against yourself, making you an opponent to the reality that confronts you and maintaining chronic states of distress and confusion."�
Phillips; the nursing students; Steve Keyser, NCI's outreach educator who also has counseling duties; and Janie Brazier, NCI's social work coordinator for Norfolk State, talked during the luncheon of the day-long seminar at the Dutch Inn. It was sponsored by First Baptist Church of Martinsville's ministry of education.
All eight of those interviewed said they thought the seminar was beneficial.
"I think I'll be more compassionate with people in the mourning process," said nursing student Leslie Sechrist.
Wolfelt defines grief as something done inwardly and mourning as the outward expression of grief, or "grief gone public."�
Nursing student Linda Wallace said she learned that mourning is a slow process that should not be speeded up. She added that repressed grief can lead to depression, anxiety or addictions.
Nursing student Stephanie Wagoner said that if someone represses grief, he or she, in turn, may not love others.
Nursing student Brian Cox said grief can be dealt with positively or negatively. So embrace grief and live, rather than denying it, he said.
Nursing student Paula Janey, who works in labor and delivery, said she thinks the information she learned will help her in working with parents who have had stillbirths or miscarriages.
Several of the eight said they also learned to avoid saying "buck-up" statements to people who have experienced loss, referring to well-intentioned but potentially hurtful comments
Those could include, in the case of a death: He/she has gone to a better place; heaven needed another angel; the person is better off (no longer suffering); you can have another baby (in the case of young parents who have lost a child); or keep busy (but mourning should not be rushed).
Brazier, who teaches students pursuing degrees in social work, said the various phases of the grief/mourning process were discussed, including the initial response, internalizing, externalizing (expressing), and processing, or dealing, with the loss.
Keyser said he thinks the seminar information will be useful when he counsels students who have suffered losses.
Another seminar attendee, Sally Estes, the family services coordinator for Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care in Mount Airy, N.C., said the information about grieving and mourning being a slow process that should not be rushed "will help me in my job because we work with grieving families."�
"I think the information at the seminar will increase people's awareness of the need to "˜companion' those who have recently or in the past have experienced losses," said Anna Bowe Wells of First Baptist Church of Martinsville. "Recently the town has suffered many losses with teenagers, soldiers, murders. We need to be open to these people."�
Some people also have experienced grief because of job losses in the area, the Rev. John Fulcher, associate pastor of the church, said in a previous interview.
Wolfelt said in an interview that society tends to allow people three days off from work for bereavement and then expects them to keep their chins up and go back to work. It rushes the grief/mourning process and does not give people the time they need to deal with it, he added.
In a portion of his remarks at the seminar, he talked about some problem areas: military personnel diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder being treated as mentally ill when they merely are grieving losses later that they did not have time to grieve in battle; and the faith community telling people that they should not grieve, but the Bible says that "Blessed are those who mourn..." (Matthew 5:4), "grieve not as those who have no hope" (I Thessalonians 4:13), and "Jesus wept" (after Lazarus died) from John 11:35.
Another problem, he said, is medications such as antidepressants being prescribed when people experience normal emotions of grief/mourning. However, he added, sometimes medications are indeed appropriate.