2019 - July - Gazette - Three Important Lessons

By: Jackie Hook
Thursday, July 25, 2019

Three Important Lessons

As I’ve worked around dying, death and grief, I’ve learned three important lessons: you’re not alone, community matters and storytelling heals. These messages consistently present themselves throughout end-of-life, death care and bereavement.

You’re not alone – In some communities, there is a volunteer program called No One Dies Alone. Its premise is, “No one is born alone, and in the best of circumstances, no one dies alone.” As a result, volunteers sit with dying individuals who have no family or friends. This is a powerful way to say you’re not alone.

After a death, loved ones hopefully feel that message too. Family and friends gather around to offer support and guidance. Visitations, funerals, memorial services, remembrance services, celebrations of life and receptions are beautiful expressions of the message you’re not alone.

And then on the grief journey, this message is shared again. In the grief education and support groups I facilitate, this is one of the most powerful and underlying messages for participants. I worked with a woman who lost her husband of many years and felt all alone with no family around. She attended our programs for a while and when she felt ready to “graduate,” she spoke of how important it was to attend the groups and learn she wasn’t alone.

Community matters – According to the researcher and author, Frances Moore Lappe, “Community – meaning for me ‘nurturing human connection’ — is our survival. We humans wither outside of community. It isn’t a luxury, a nice thing; community is essential to our well-being.” Since community is critical for us as humans, its role in dying, death and grief are no exception.

Much of the work of an end-of-life doula is to encourage community around dying individuals. We connect by helping them “sum up” aspects of their lives and think about their legacies. We also help them and their family members address RUGS – Regrets, Unfinished Business, Guilt and Shame. Our intention is to strengthen community for the dying individual and their loved ones.

As with the “you’re not alone” message, “community matters” is also very evident around death and can be seen in the rituals and services used. A common occurrence following a visitation is a loved one saying, “It felt so good to hear the stories of how my loved one touched others’ lives.” That community provides all kinds of connections.

With grief, communities matter in creating safe places where the bereaved can share themselves with others and have others share themselves with them. I once read that grief needs to be held in a container so it could then be released. Communities offer that.

Storytelling heals – A Journal of the American Medical Association study found that patients nearing the end of life want to know their lives mattered. A powerful way to do that is through storytelling.

Storytelling is done after the death too and brings comfort to loved ones. Stories are shared informally at gatherings and more formally as part of rituals and services.

And in the grief education and support arenas, storytelling has long been seen as a healing art. We often talk about moving the grief from the inside to the outside and storytelling is one way to do that.

If you would like to participate in events that send the important messages you’re not alone, communities matter and storytelling heals, we invite you to the following upcoming events:

  • Monday’s Moments Complimentary Luncheon – “Change is Loss,” Monday, August 5 from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1730 University Drive, State College – Changes occur every day. All changes involve loss of some kind and the way we deal with small losses helps prepare us for bigger loses. At this gathering, we’ll talk about ways to open to changes and loss, especially the death of a loved one. Please email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-404-0546 or sign up on the Koch Funeral Home ​Facebook page to RSVP by Wednesday, July 31.
     
  • Death Café, August 19 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Webster’s Bookstore Café, 133 E. Beaver Avenue, State College with Complimentary Desserts Provided by Webster’s - Please join us at our third Monday of the month Death Café where we’ll drink coffee and tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our goal is to increase awareness to help us all make the most of our lives. Together we’ll have a group-directed discussion with no agenda, objectives or themes. This is a discussion group not a grief support or counseling session.

For more information about these programs, please visit the Koch Funeral Home website’s Bereavement Gatherings and Events section under the Local Resources tab. All of these events are open to the public and space is limited.

We look forward to welcoming you to one of the above gatherings! 

Jackie Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.

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