Finding the silver lining in a cloud of grief

Sudden loss can open doors to personal growth

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Grief is an inevitable and fitting reaction to the loss of a loved one, yet it can be painful and difficult to overcome. Part of the mission of Hospice and Home Care of Juneau is to help members of the community deal with the shock, loneliness and other emotions that are a natural part of the grieving process. "Grieving is not only sadness," said Jean Jasmine, Hospice and Home Care bereavement counselor. "It's also healing work, and although we would never choose for it to happen this way, the healing can be very positive. Grief work makes space for the tears, and is a place for learning as one becomes a new person with new strengths, wisdom and much to give."

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Hospice and Home Care sponsors a variety of groups that provide support to people who have undergone losses of various kinds. They include:

• Guidance through Grief, a sequential seven-week adult group offering bereavement support, therapeutic projects and information to help participants progress through their loss. It runs from September through October.

• Children and Families Support, offering creative play activities and peer support that help children express their feelings while adult family members meet at the same time in a bereavement group, which runs October through April 2008.

• Suicide Loss Support, a mutual support group offering understanding, encouragement and direction for those struggling with a death by suicide. This group is ongoing.

• The Wished-For Child; mutual support for those who have experienced infertility, miscarriage, abortion, failed adoption or infant loss. This group is ongoing.

• TAG - Teens and Grief, offered in both Juneau high schools by Hospice volunteers and the school counselors during the school year.

• Men's Grief Support, by and for men, respecting the fact that grief may be expressed differently by men, and that their approach is as valid as any other. This group is ongoing.

• Pet Loss Support, dealing with the often unrecognized grief following the loss of a beloved pet; this group is ongoing.

Hospice also sponsors:

• The Threshold Choir, which sings upon request in small groups in homes, nursing homes, and hospital rooms;

• Two free one-hour counseling sessions for individuals who have experienced a loss through death.

Hospice volunteers donate many hours every year visiting patients and leading support groups to encourage those dealing with painful losses. Volunteers find the challenges enrich their own lives. "You get back so much more than you give," said volunteer Debbie Sis, who has sat with a number of patients through their dying hours and helped their families sort out the emotional and practical issues associated with death. "I've learned from every single one of my patients," Sis said, "and I honor them and their families so much for enriching my life."

It is work that requires preparation as well as a desire to help. Hospice volunteers receive special training in recognizing typical stages of grief, suggesting healthy coping strategies, and finding other ways to support people who are experiencing loss. Beginning September 22 Jasmine will offer a 26-hour course in bereavement support to train others who would like to become volunteers in Hospice programs, or who want to learn more about supporting others in the grief process. The training sessions will take place on Saturdays and Monday evenings through Oct. 13, and will cover topics such as the grief process, communicating with compassion, using therapeutic aids such as art, journaling and symbolism, and how to facilitate support groups. The training is free of charge but registration is required.

Although Jasmine holds masters degrees in education and psychology and counseling, she credits the sudden deaths of her husband and her son as her major teachers. "The death of a loved one is like a deep stab wound," she says. "If we try to cure it at a surface level, a scab will form but infection will remain underneath. The infection will create disease in the body, and each time it is pushed on, it will hurt. Grief work is like opening the wound and cleaning it out from the bottom up. It is painful at first, but eventually the wound will become a healthy scar, and an integrated part of who we are."

For more information about Hospice support groups or the fall bereavement training course, contact Jasmine at 463-6134, or

• Marge Hermans is a Hospice and Home Care of Juneau volunteer. Hospice and Home Care of Juneau is a program of Catholic Community Service, which serves all persons regardless of their faith.

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