This newsletter is dedicated to professional caregivers. It is our hope that this Spring 2012 newsletter will help you give comfort and strength to those you serve.LaughingWhen It Hurts: Part II By Dr. Earl A. GrollmanWhile Part I emphasized the role of humour in clinical experiences, Part II addresses humour in our cultural andreligious life with practical advice for the professionals. Learn from Our Religious and Cultural Life Each faith has its own unique aspects of humour. Steve Lipman’s book, Laughter in Hell: The Use of Humor During the Holocaust, describes how during the systematic extermination, Jews found humorous episodes to express their despair. Humour is a spiritual tool that enabled them to survive persecu- tions and dislocations. Their mutual grasp of identification was reinforced by sharing a variety of feelings that could not be openly communicated. With puns, caricatures, wit and double meanings they could reveal their rebellion against the cruel oppressors. Sigmund Freud believed this type of humour was like dreaming because it allowed stepping back from a situa- tion that was beyond their control with a wish fulfilment of freedom and liberation. Humour also served as a means of playfulness, self-criticism and self-fulfilment. A century and a half ago, when Jews first came to America, some were frightened about starting a new life in a mystifying culture. Yearning for the old country, two immi- grants meet on a street in New York. “How is everything?” asks one. “Could be worse, and you?” “Existing. But I’ve been sick a lot and it has cost me a fortune. In the past five months, I have spent over $300 on doctors and medicine.” The response: “Back home on that kind of money, you could be sick for two years.” In my hometown of Boston, the Irish Catholics and Ital- ian Catholics have their own individual styles of humour.
Appropriate humour is acceptable at funerals and memorial services. At the same time, profound grief must also be expressed.When I first came to the city four decades ago, I was captivated Professionals Can Learn, Toowith the Irish wake eloquently described in Edwin O’Connor’s As discussed in Part I of this series, many bereaved people feel1956 popular novel, The Last Hurrah. In the book, the Irish poli- uncomfortable when they laugh. To them, any signs of merrimenttician, Frank Skiffington, spoke to his nephew: “The only place are a betrayal of their loved one’s memory. For some, their never-people got together was at the wake. Everybody knew everybody ending heartache is a sign of their eternal loyalty.else. It was a change, a refuge for people who led back-breakingdreary and monotonous lives.” There are two questions we might ask our client: “By denying yourself pleasures are you commemorating your loved one’s mem-I recall how the home of the deceased loved one would be open ories? Wouldn’t your loved one want you to savour life as fully as24 hours a day. Their front door was marked with black crepe. possible?” Laughter is not an indication that you loved less, butThe body was usually in the living room with chairs lined up like an affirmation of a meaningful life. It is OK to laugh again.a movie theatre. And to professionals, “Shouldn’t we follow our own advice?What impressed me was that no one seemed to be in a hurry. Should we not reconstruct our lives with laughter as an all-im-There was an abundance of sandwiches, coffee, tea and lots of portant component? Don’t we also need interludes of joy and“stronger spirits.” The guests regaled each other with wonderful, humour to balance our exhausting, weighty lives for physical,personal stories about the person lying before them and especially emotional and spiritual stability?”funny incidents about his or her life. What a therapeutic realiza-tion that not only had a loved one died but that he or she had When having an especially rough day, how about watching a funnytruly lived. sitcom or movie? Find humour in the every day. Write down those sur- prising, unpredictable events that will make us smile again and again.But times are changing. Today, wakes are often confined to funer-al homes with visiting hours often limited to a single day (perhaps Books (especially with cartoons) can offer a delightful respite.2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.). Visitors often double-park at the Two of my favourites are Allen Klein’s The Courage to Laugh:funeral home and then rush in frantically for a brief moment to Humor, Hope, and Healing in the Face of Death and Dying andpay respects – then quickly drive away. The question still looms, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying. The first book of“In our hurry-up culture, are we forgetting some of those still pur- this “jollytologist” was written when his wife was diagnosed withposeful rituals and customs that could bring support as well as a terminal cancer and the latter, after her death.realistic awareness of their loss?” Both are simple but profound with comforting thoughts and a light-Some may argue that the practices of the past may no longer have er tone not found in many other books on loss. I often refer to histhe same relevance for the present. But we should not hastily priceless ode to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross with the chorus, “Thank youabandon those rituals that help mourners facilitate the difficult Elisabeth for teaching me about dying.” Each time I can’t help myselfprocess of adjustment during their painful separation of death. from laughing out loud, no matter how many times I read it.At the same time, let us consider what we can change or add to Even though we take our careers seriously, it should not be sohelp the bereaved during their grief to commemorate the per- onerous that we cannot laugh at ourselves. As the late Presidentson who has died. An example is the funeral of the late Sena- John F. Kennedy said: “There are three things that are real: God,tor Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. During the service, there human tragedy and laughter. Since we cannot understand com-was humour. Almost every eulogist punctuated their speech with pletely the first two, we must do with the third – laughter.”gales of laughter from those assembled. The combination of light-ness and whimsy together with more serious aspects made it a truecelebration of life. About the AuthorA word of caution. Appropriate humour is acceptable at funerals Dr. Earl A. Grollman, a pioneer in crisis management,and memorial services. At the same time, profound grief must is internationally acclaimed as a writer and lecturer. A recipient of thealso be expressed. We have all been present when “laugh-in” Death Education Award by the Association for Death Education andduelling eulogists try to outwit the others with tasteless jokes. Counseling, his books on coping with bereavement have sold close to a million copies.Celebrate life but never forget to commemorate grief. Only ap-propriate humour empowers the bereaved physically, emotionally For further information, visit www.beacon.org/grollman.and spiritually.
Touchstone 2 When Someone You Love Completes Suicide: Dispelling the Misconceptions about Suicide and Grief by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. and MourningM isconception: A misconception is a mistaken notion you ticipated death. Obviously, there can be some natural challenges, might have about something – in other words, something such as the combination of sudden shock, the natural question you believe to be true but that is not true. Misconceptions of “why?,” the trauma of witnessing or discovering the suicide,about grief are common in our society because we tend not to openly the lack of support from family and friends, and the potential ofmourn or talk about grief and mourning. You can see how we’d have “secondary victimization” that results from cruel, judgmental ormisconceptions about something as “in the closet” as suicide grief. insensitive comments, but do not let this misconception become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do your work of mourning, and you willAs you journey through the wilderness of your suicide grief, if you come out of the dark and into the light.mourn openly and authentically, you will come to find a path thatfeels right for you. But beware – others may try to pull you off this Misconception: Grief and mourning progress in pre-path. They may try to make you believe that the path you have dictable, orderly stages.chosen is wrong – even crazy – and that their way is better. The concept of stages was popularized in 1969 with the publica-They have internalized some common misconceptions about sui- tion of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s landmark text On Death and Dying.cide grief and mourning. And the misconceptions, in essence, However, Dr. Kübler-Ross never intended for her stages to be inter-deny you your right to hurt and authentically express your grief. preted as a rigid, linear sequence to be followed by all mourners.As you read about this important Touchstone, you may discover As a grieving person, you will probably encounter others whothat you yourself have believed in some of the misconceptions have adopted a rigid system of beliefs about what you should ex-and that some may be embraced by people around you. Don’t perience in your grief journey. And if you have internalized thiscondemn yourself or others for having believed in them. Simply misconception, you may also find yourself trying to prescribe yourmake use of any new insights to help you open your heart to your grief experience as well.work of mourning in ways that restore your soul. Everyone mourns in different ways. Personal experience is yourMisconception: Grief and mourning are the same thing. best teacher about where you are in your grief journey. Don’t think your goal is to move through prescribed stages of grief.Perhaps you have noticed that people tend to use the words “griev-ing” and “mourning” interchangeably. There is an important distinc- Misconception: We can always determine thetion, however. Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and “whys?” of a suicide death.feelings we have when someone we love dies. Mourning is when youtake the grief you have on the inside and express it outside of your- Why the person took his or her own life can be a painful yetself. Over time and with the support of others, to mourn is to heal. natural question to explore, yet it’s a question for which there is often no clear, satisfactory answer. My experience with manyWARNING: After someone you love has completed suicide, your survivors suggests that you may very slowly, with no rewards forfriends may encourage you to keep your grief to yourself. A cata- speed, discover that it is possible to live with the uncertainty oflyst for healing, however, can only be created when you develop never fully knowing the answer to “why?.”the courage to mourn publicly, in the presence of understanding,compassionate people who will not judge you. Misconception: All suicide survivors feel guilty.Misconception: Grief following a suicide death always The sad reality is that some people will actually say directly toresults in “complicated” or “pathological” mourning. you, “I bet you feel guilty” or pose the question, “Do you feel guilty?” This is one of the most prescribed responses for survivorsResearch indicates that survivors of suicide integrate grief at of suicide. In reality, as a survivor you may or may not feel guilty.about the same pace as those who experience any kind of unan- Besides, assuming you feel guilt is the opposite of my belief that
you are the expert of your own experience and therefore you must (and them) from pain. You may hear comments like, “Tears won’tteach me what you feel; I must not prescribe what you should feel. bring him back” or “He wouldn’t want you to cry.” Yet crying is nature’s way of releasing internal tension in your body, and it al-Misconception: Only certain kinds of people com- lows you to communicate a need to be comforted.plete suicide. Misconception: Being upset and openly mourningThis is a simple misconception to dispel. The reality is that sui- means you are being weak in your faith.cide is a stranger to no race, creed, religion, age group or socio-economic level. All kinds of people have completed suicide since Watch out for those who think that having faith and openlythe beginning of recorded history. mourning are mutually exclusive. If you are mad at God, be mad at God. Similarly, if you need a timeout from regular worship,Misconception: Only a crazy person completes suicide. don’t shame yourself. When and if you are ready, attending a church, synagogue, or other place of worship, reading scripture,While the person you loved who completed suicide may have and praying are only a few ways you might want to express yourbeen depressed, anxious or hopeless, to be sure, most of us sur- faith. Or, you may be open to less conventional ways, such asvivors don’t find comfort when people try to tell us the person meditating or spending time alone in nature.was crazy. Not all people who complete suicide meet some formalcriteria for mental illness, and even when they do, we don’t need Now that we’ve reviewed the common misconceptions of grief, let’sto hear that they were crazy. wrap up this article by listing some of the “conceptions.” These are some realities you can hold onto as you journey toward healing.Misconception: It is a sin to complete suicide, and Realistic expectations for grief and mourning:the person who does goes directly to hell. • ou will naturally grieve, but you will probably have to make a YAs one Catholic priest observed about suicide, “When its vic- conscious effort to mourn.tims wake on the other side, they are met by a gentle Christ whostands right inside of their huddled fear and says, ‘Peace be with • our grief and mourning will involve a wide variety of different Yyou!’ As we see in the Gospels, God can go through locked doors, thoughts and feelings.breathe out peace in places where we cannot get in, and write • our grief and mourning will impact you in all five realms of Ystraight with even the most crooked of lines.” experience: physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual.Personally, I believe there are no limits to God’s compassion. God • ou need to feel it to heal it. Ymourns with us. If God’s nature is one of steadfast mercy and love, then • our grief will probably hurt more before it hurts less. Ythis is a misconception we need to keep educating the world about. • our grief will be unpredictable and will not likely progress in YMisconception: Suicide is inherited and runs in the family. an orderly fashion. • ou don’t “get over” grief; you learn to live with it. YBe alert for uninformed people who may project to you that becausesomeone in your family completed suicide, you may have the same • ou need other people to help you through your grief. Yfate. This projection is not supported by the facts. Scientific research • ou will not always feel this bad. Yhas not at this time confirmed a genetic basis for suicide risk. About the AuthorMisconception: Tears of grief are only a sign of weakness. This article is excerpted from Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s bookTears of grief are often associated with personal inadequacy and Understanding Your Suicide Grief, available at book stores and atweakness. The worst thing you can do, however, is to allow this Dr. Wolfelt’s website, www.centerforloss.com. Dr. Wolfelt is anjudgment to prevent you from crying. internationally-noted author, teacher and grief counsellor. He serves as director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is an educationalSometimes, the people who care about you may, directly or in- consultant to funeral homes, hospices, hospitals, schools and a varietydirectly, try to prevent your tears out of a desire to protect you of community agencies across North America. A Family Tradition of Caring® Parthemore Funeral Home is providing this complimentary newsletter to you with the hope that the information it contains will be useful to you in working with families who are dealing with the death of a loved one. We believe that your professionalism, dedication and understanding are an important part of helping families that have experienced a loss. 1303 Bridge Street, New Cumberland Gilbert J. Parthemore, Supervisor