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Some of the Most Helpful Things I’ve Learned Over the Past 14 Years… by Jennifer McBride

It was in 1996, my first year at Horan & McConaty, that I took a daylong class from an organization called American Academy of Bereavement. The instructor was a woman named Judith Skretny. What I learned from Judith that day has been useful for me and for the individuals and families we care for over the last 14 years.
I’d like to share these:

Top 7 Things to Know About Grief

1. Grief lasts longer and is more painful than most people expect.
2. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve- just your way.
3. The least helpful thing for grieving people is other people telling them how they should be doing things.
4. The most helpful thing for grieving people is to be able to process their feelings (talking, writing, composing, creating).
5. Good grief doesn’t mean forgetting, it means remembering and forming a new relationship with the deceased person.
6. Sometimes the people we think should help us simply can’t.
7. People are fundamentally resilient. They can and they will survive. We can empower people.

My observation after walking with grieving people would be to add an “8th thing” and tell people that “Having faith does not preclude you from going through the process of grief.” I think about when I served in a congregation and the times that grieving people would talk about their thoughts, fears, feelings and struggles. Many times, people would say, “If my faith were stronger, I wouldn’t be hurting like this.” My response to them was that having faith means you have a relationship you can lean into and onto as you integrate loss & change into your life. Expressing the wide range of emotions in grief does not indicate a lack of faith or a lesser faith… It is an indication of being fully human!

Judith Skretny also shared this list of factors that affect a person’s experience of a death. When I am listening to people tell their stories, I try to always be conscious of how these different variables can impact and influence their grief…

Variables that Influence Grief

• The bereaved person’s unique relationship with the deceased (strength of attachment).
• Degree of ambivalence or unfinished business.
• Circumstances of the death (sudden or unexpected; violent or peaceful; age of deceased).
• Personality and coping behaviors of the bereaved person (previous history of loss; ability to express emotions and seek/receive help).
• Social support (family; friends).
• Cultural and religious support (belief system; rituals).
• Health and lifestyle of the bereaved person (history of mental illness; depression; substance abuse).

I still believe many years after hearing this question, that is a clarifying lens we should hold up as we hear the experiences and feelings of those whom we serve…
“What does THIS loss mean to THIS person at THIS time in his or her life?”

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