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Dealing with grief is delicate

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Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2012 11:50 pm | Updated: 11:54 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Are you staying warm? It is a treat to live in Alaska, but there are times when it is also a challenge. This time of year is certainly a time of challenge.

My name is Steve Reed, and I am the chaplain at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, including the Denali Center and hospice.

I write to you today about another challenge everyone faces at some point in life. It is a challenge more often avoided than embraced, despite the universality of it.

Everyone, regardless of age, race, income, faith or status, will face this challenge at some point, or many points, in life.

It is the challenge of grief. There is no easy solution to grief. There is no calling with your credit card to avoid grief.

Grief is real, sad, hard and dark, and the list goes on.

One might tell you that you’ll get over it like it is their hope for you. I do not believe one “gets over it.” The person, or people, you loved is gone, and now you are in the wake of the storm trying to learn how to live again. Even when death is expected, one often struggles with the shock of the absence.

There are things that can help one through the grief. Some find comfort in talking about their grief individually or in a small group. Most often conversations are with trusted friends, family members or co-workers.

What happens if you are that trusted person? What do you say?

There are no magic words to say to a person in grief. There are lots of harmful things that one can say.

Examples include (but are not limited to): I know how you feel — you don’t. I know what you’re going through — you don’t. Everything is going to be fine — it isn’t. Everything happens for a reason — why? He or she (insert name of deceased person here) is in a better place and out of pain — but I love them and want them here. You’ll be OK — no, I won’t.

Now that we’ve seen a partial list of bad things to say, you might be afraid to say anything. There is good and bad in that approach. The “bad” in that approach is you might avoid the grieving person at a time when they really need support.

The “good” in that approach is you might simply be there and silently listening. There is nothing magic to say, but there is good in just being present for a person in need.

Another helpful approach in a time of grief is rituals and remembrances. I hear people say that a funeral will not be held in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.

I need to let you in on a secret. Funerals are not for the deceased. The deceased is dead and most likely won’t be in attendance (though perhaps somehow otherwise aware).

Funerals are for those who are left behind: family members, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. It is for the living that funerals are held as a means of celebrating, laughing, remembering, crying, praying and missing. Funerals are a step of closure and saying goodbye. They are a public way of acknowledging that a loved one is gone from our sight.

Community services of remembrance also are helpful. I invite you to attend the First Community Service of Memories at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is beautiful, and I encourage you visit the visitors center no matter how long you have lived here.

The Service of Memories on Tuesday is being sponsored by Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Hospice Services, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and Denali Center.

Call Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Hospice Services at 458-3090 with any questions about the service or otherwise. All are welcome to attend.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are coming soon. They can be joyous, but they also can be difficult when grieving. There may be an empty chair where a loved one once sat. That is real and best not avoided. It is a good practice to talk with a trusted friend and perhaps with your doctor.

I encourage you to acknowledge that your grief is real and not feel guilty for grieving and not feel pressured to “get over it,” and to talk (and listen) to a trusted friend.

Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.

The Rev. Stephen Reed is an Episcopal priest and serves as hospital chaplain and crisis interventionist at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

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