Mourners will find comfort in a grief support group
recently joined a grief support group offered by the Jewish Pavilion in conjunction with VITAS Innovative Hospice Care and held at Chambrel at Island Lake, a Brookdale Senior Living community. While my beloved mother passed away 18 years ago, my dear father died only last September. But with the recent loss of my father, I now felt like a heartbroken orphan. Swept up in my grief, I decided to seek help.
My admiration for Nancy Ludin, executive director of the Jewish Pavilion, and this organization as well as my positive experience with hospice for my late father prompted me to choose the VITAS Bereavement Support Group. While the Jewish Pavilion's mission is to improve the lives of the elderly in independent, assisted-living and skilled nursing facilities by offering visits, Shabbat services and Jewish holiday programs in the Orlando area, it is reassuring to see that this organization has now initiated a grief support group at Chambrel in Longwood.
VITAS Innovative Hospice Care is one of the largest hospices in the United States and operates in 18 states. It has a foundation that, for example, can aid patients by paying for flights for out-of-state family members to be with a patient, thus ensuring a more empathic situation for everyone. Its main goal, however, is to provide hospice care at home or in a facility where the patient is most comfortable and can have their needs met appropriately. Rabbi Maurice S. Kaprow, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain, led the free six-week VITAS Bereavement Support Group.
The quiet space of the craft room at Chambrel provided an arena conducive to focusing on our mutual feelings about the loss of a loved one. While the discussions during the sessions are strictly confidential, Rabbi Kaprow's excellent leadership and explanations were essential to our understanding of the grief process. The one-and-a-half hour weekly meetings examined loss and grief, as well as how to adjust, adapt and heal after a loved one dies. As Rabbi Kaprow said, "We take life for granted and we assume that everything that we want will be there tomorrow and it is not so. We all learn that lesson our own way."
Relaxation techniques, the myths and truths surrounding grief, and the benefits of joining a support group were discussed during Week One. Bonding through adversity and discovering how to cope are just two benefits of joining such a group. Emphasis was placed on the fact that everyone's grief is unique, yet no one is alone in this situation.
During Week Two, Rabbi Kaprow discussed the significance and irrationality of grief and mourning, adapted from "Understanding Grief: Helping Yourself Heal" by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. It is common for someone in mourning to lose track of time and have difficulty remembering dates. Precious belongings, such as clothing and books, can bring comfort to a mourner. Wearing my father's woolen sweater during the cold winter evenings made me feel as if my father were giving me a big hug. Even completing his book of crossword puzzles made me imagine that he was sitting right next to me and we were working on the solutions together.
"But what is the solution for overcoming grief?" I asked the rabbi.
"You are never going to get over a loss and the reality is that time may make it better. But there is no such thing as taking a year to get over a loss," he explained.
Happy memories of a loved one can indeed help a person cope with loss. But note that grief attacks happen often. Sudden mood changes are normal; it is all part of grief and mourning. People should not hold back from crying. It is important to not let one's feelings bottle up and erupt into anger. Unresolved grief for the loss of a loved one could develop into illness.
Rabbi Kaprow discussed the spiritual aspects of a departed loved one during Week Three. Although our loved ones may be gone physically, they continue to be with us in our hearts and in our minds. Rather than focus on my father's suffering and the ravages of his lung cancer metastases, I remembered how he lived his life after his heart attack. He would always take the high road during family disputes and hardly ever complained. His positive outlook became legendary-especially when his lung cancer had spread to his spine. He wanted to walk a little further, stand a little taller and laugh a little louder. I now aspire to be like him. One of the Ten Commandments states, "Honor thy father and thy mother." Honor the beautiful memories of your loved one, be it a parent, a spouse, a partner, a sibling, or a special friend.
The article "The Journey Through Grief" by Alan Wolfet describes the six "reconciliation needs" regarding the loss of a loved one. If you are to heal, you must go through grief and mourning. Grief is an internal feeling when someone you love dies. A divorce or major illness can elicit the same emotions. Mourning is the outward expression of grief. Acknowledging the reality of the death may take weeks and months.
Another reality is that dealing with the pain of loss can bring about reconciliation. Keep your treasured memories alive, whether it is through photos, books, heirlooms or the like. Your relationship with your loved one can continue, albeit in a different manner. In Judaism, remembrances of the person who died are built into our practices; we remember all the time-such as saying the Mourner's Kaddish prayer and reciting the Memorial Prayer, Yiskor, four times a year in the synagogue. Everybody is different with regard to their journey through grief, but these rituals provide an anchor during the journey.
The grief support group is a safe haven for opening up and talking to others in the room. Knowing that you are not alone and having the support of others who are also mourning the loss of a loved one is tremendous. Developing a new self-identity, searching for meaning, and receiving support from others are the subjects of the three remaining weeks and will be featured in my next article. Our loved ones are always with us. Remembering the past becomes the gateway to embracing a new future.
Yvonne David is a writer and an award-winning author. For further information, please visit http://www.appletreeseries.com.