Luis D. Perez
- Healing Care Hospice Bereavement Coordinator
On May 18th 2019, Healing Care Hospice will be hosting a Celebration of Life Memorial Service for the families of all our patients who have died in the last year. This will be a day where families and staff gather to laugh, cry, reunite, but above all else – remember. In fact, the theme for this year’s event is “Remember Me” from Disney’s “Coco.”
But why should we remember?
In order to answer this question, we must first define the term “remember.” It originates from the 14th century Old French word “again” (re) and “be mindful of” (memorari). This translates to the word “remind,” which describes the physical or mental action of recalling memoires.
Interestingly, the death of someone we care for oftentimes leads us to become stagnant. This time of inactivity creates waves of sadness, tears, numbness, shock, relief, loss of meaning, loss of motivation and sometimes guilt, which are all rooted in grief. Grief causes a sense of paralysis. It is no wonder that I frequently hear people in bereavement communicate to me that they feel stuck. They feel stuck in accepting the reality of their loss; trapped in the pain of grief; jammed into new, uncomfortable roles; wedged in a stagnant sea of new life. But you know what, it is okay to feel “stuck.”
As hospice professionals, we understand that grief cannot be wrapped in a pretty gift bag. Grief is complex. It is unique. In the same way our finger prints, and DNA are unique to everyone, grief also comes in all shapes and sizes and creates its own path in each of us. With that said, when counseling those in bereavement, the goal is never to “fix them.” Rather, the goal is to walk alongside their confusion; actively listen with empathy and compassion; and recommend helpful tools as mourners build a new home of hope. In her book, “Resilient Grieving,” Dr. Lucy Hone stated, “Grief is not a problem to be solved; it’s an experience to be carried. The work here is to find—and receive—support and comfort that helps you live with your reality. Companionship, not correction, is the way forward.”
Oftentimes, the mourner feels uncomfortable expressing grief to their loved ones, especially months after their beloved’s death. Family members become irritated and concerned that the mourner has not found healing or closure. “I think it's time you move on,” or “Snap out of it!” These are a few of the comments concerned family members express to the mourner. But grief is a process. It is different for everyone. I utilize The Mourner’s Bill of Rights to educate families on the patience and space needed while their loved ones grieve. It is okay to not feel okay.
It is also important to note, however, that too much inactivity is not okay – it is unhealthy. Life seems to be lived best when we balance our priorities, our time, our money, and ourselves. So rather than remaining stagnant in feelings of grief and sorrow, those experiencing grief may benefit from taking action.
J. William Worden stood in the belief that part of adapting (not completely healing) from grief was taking action. According to his grief theory, there are four ways to make this happen.
1. Accept the reality of the loss.
2. Work through the pain of the grief.
3. Adjust to a world without the deceased.
4. Find an enduring connection with the deceased, while embarking on a new life.
Warden preferred utilizing the term “tasks” rather than “stages” or “phases” because as he stated, “it implies that the mourner needs to take action and can do something...the mourner may see phases as something to be passed through, whereas the tasks approach can give the mourner some sense of leverage and hope that there is something that he or she can actively do to adapt to the death of a loved one” (Warden, 2009).
Although these tasks need not be completed in any order, the fourth and final task echoes Dennis Klass’ Continuing Bonds, an attachment theory based on continuing a healthy relationship with the deceased. Part of finding an enduring connection is remembering. This is what the movie “Coco” got right. We never forget the memories made with those we have lost – the relationship continues, in different ways. Although life will never be the same, as when our beloved was alive, we can be sure that their memories, influence, inspirations and values continue to impact the way we live life in the present.
So why should we remember? Well, according to Warden’s grief theory, if a mourner fails to complete the fourth task of remembrance while embarking on a new life, they are no longer living. He said, “For many people, task IV is the most difficult one to accomplish. They get stuck at this point in their grieving and later realize that their life in some way stopped at the point the loss occurred.” It might be time for you to act and find life meaningful again. Take the first step of action, if you have not yet, by attending this amazing event where you will be able to process your grief and learn ways to cope with it in healthy manners.
While you wait for the event, light a birthday candle for your loved one; pop open a photo album and reminisce on the fun times; visit the gravesite and speak to them about your dreams and aspirations; write a letter to them; continue a cause they believed in; or finish a project started by them. Do all this while embarking on a new normal, a new life, without them. You will find these exercises very helpful.
I hope to see you at the event. Tacos will be served. Music will be played by our talented staff members. A special ritual of remembrance will also be held for all those who have died in our hospice care. Awe-inspired speakers. And much more! In the event, you can cry, mourn and grieve, and you are also invited to laugh, celebrate, and remember.
Some of you may find it hard to attend due to complications in your grief journey. You possibly have unpleasant memories of your beloved. Call our office at 323.988.1245 and we can connect you with a grief counselor. Know that you can begin to live life...again. It will look different. You will have times of relapse, but with the help of our team, you will not be alone.
May the memories of your loved one bring comfort. You are loved.
Rev. Luis D. Perez, SC
Hone, Lucy. (2017) Resilient Grieving: Finding Strength and Embracing Life After a Loss That Changes Everything. Published in North America by The Experiment, LLC.
Klass, Dennis. (1996) Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief (Death Education, Aging and Health Care) 1st Edition. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
Worden, J.W. (2009) Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, 4th Edition. Springer Publishing Company, LLC.