• Compassion in the Hard Places, a Grief Workshop

    I reconnected with an old friend this weekend, Clair Jantzen, my Grief therapist.

    Around 15 years ago, our family had a “run on dying” and I am pretty sure Clair did 4 of the 6 funeral services. Well I did not take the losses all that well and went to a difficult place to be. Clair is a director at Springfield Funeral Home (soon to retire), and he offered Heather and I a whole bunch of grief counseling and I think it saved my life and likely that of others.

    Grief is an odd thing depending on where a person comes from and how they are. I know my Acupuncture teacher growing up in Africa experienced a lot of people dying from all sorts of reasons, many quite horrific. Once at a funeral I asked her about the differences between funerals here and those back in Africa. She told me in Africa they had a big party and celebrate the person. It was rare for people to be sad as they just accepted the loss as a regular part of their day.

    Through work I have spent a lot of time with people experiencing loss and Clair has spent around 40 years doing it and he says there are ALL SORTS of reactions to loss and grief. In my interpretation of what I have learned from him previously and  at our recent “Compassion in the Hard Places” workshop, sponsored by Springfield Funeral Home and Emmanuel Church (thank you both very much). I say a persons response to loss is fine as long as they are not hurting themselves.

    The trouble is our response to the person in loss.

    The key take away in this story is “show up & shut up”.

    I experienced this all the time after our family’s season of dying. Everyone had something “helpful” to say and IT IS NOT!!! helpful. Saying you must be glad your mother is out of pain (ie dead). Is not helpful, I would have rathered she got better.

    But I and the global ‘we’ can not blame people for what they say, as we treat death like some horrific topic that by just talking about it we can be cursed and yet we are all going to experience it. Things that are taboo often lead to strange comments from others.

    “I am not fragile, I am grieving”. If you took a tire off your car and had to drive it across the country like that, it would take a different strategy than if you had four tires. When you loose someone, it can be similar. You still need to live, but it can take a while to figure out how. To others it can appear you need “help”, but you are not fragile you are figuring out how to live the new reality.

    Clair told a story (I am changing it to preserve confidentiality). A wife died, the husband realized he did not know where the coffee was kept and it was all he could talk about. Many would wonder what’s that about. But grief is ‘a loss’, what did you loose? He lost his wife and that includes all kinds of things, one being where is the coffee. Of course he can get another bag of coffee, but it is new and he needs time to work threw that. But as he does that, it amplifies the fact he no longer has his wife. He may choose to avoid this, he may choose to embrace this, he may choose all kinds of things. He may also have 25 other things, like the coffee, to deal with. Sometimes grief can take a while to work threw.

    Grief is not something to be ‘fixed’ it is something to work threw. One word for that is “mourning”. People that are processing or working through their grief are mourning. What people do not express, mourn, they normally depress. In Chinese Medicine that makes a dis-ease, or illness.

    I always learned interesting things from Clair, this time I was surprised how many types of grief and mourning he exposed us to. There are so many types of grief and so many ways to express them. Some very helpful, like MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers all the way to people who ‘loose it’ and end up living on the streets, in despair.

    If you are experiencing grief and especially what I call, harmful grief. Where you are hurting yourself. Reach out to a professional. There are many trauma therapists in town, the Hospice society has resources and Clair tells me he is going into private practice, click here 

    While I can still cry over the loss of my relatives and be upset that my daughter never met her Grandmother. What I found going on my journey of grief and mourning is what my Acupuncture teacher told me I would find. Joy and happiness that they were in my life and today still are living in my memories.

    All of us will experience loss and pain, suffering is optional. Get help if you need it and realize MOST people are just not trained to respond appropriately to you. Don’t threaten to kill them like I did (not my best day ever).

    Be Well,
    Ward Willison
    Kelowna Acupuncture & Other Natural Therapies