Greensburg Daily News
According to Distinguished Lecturer and Grief Counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the United States has become a “grief-avoidant” society.
Speaking with the Daily News via phone interview Tuesday morning, Wolfelt defined mourning as “a shared social response to loss.” Healthy mourning, he added, requires a social context; people need to understand that grief is an outward process, as opposed to the inward process it’s viewed as in the US.
Wolfelt will bring more than three decades of expertise in helping others deal with grief to Greensburg Junior High School (GJHS) at 7 p.m., April 24.
His free, public program, is entitled, “Helping Yourself Heal When Someone Dies: Loving from the Outside In, Mourning from the Inside Out.” Based on Wolfelt’s decades-long experience teaching and researching the field, “Outside In” presents grief as a life-long process no single person can successfully face alone.
Such attitudes toward grief, he said, are largely antithetical to the overriding American mindset in dealing with the problem.
“In America,” he said, “people want resolution grief — fast food grief. They want grief to be a linear process with a definite beginning and end — you wake up one day, and you’re done. But that’s just not the case; grief is a recursive process.”
Grief, he said, never fully goes away, but is something people must learn into integrate into daily life. “It softens over time, but the sense of loss never completely goes away. Even many years after the loss, there will be times when the bereaved will feel a sudden, heightened sense of loss.”
Wolfelt and his program advocates “companioning” relationships between a bereaved individual and his or her community.
In Wolfelt’s philosophy, companioning is defined as simply “being present to one another, sharing, communing, abiding in the fellowship of hospitality.”
“Companioning the bereaved is not about assessing, analyzing, fixing or resolving another’s grief,” Wolfelt stressed. “Instead, it’s about being totally present to the mourner, even being a temporary guardian of the soul.”
The companioning model advocates that people listen closely, thereby learning the unique facets of the grief process for the bereaved. By so doing, comfort-givers can better help the bereaved through his or her journey.
In working to successfully deal with grief, Wolfelt advises bereaved individuals to watch closely for three types of people.
“When you experience a loss,” he said, “people in your life generally split into one of three categories.”
He continued, “One-third of people are neutral. These people might offer generic words of condolence, and then they just go away. Then there’s another one-third of people who make you feel worse; these people are well-intentioned, but they’re trying to take grief away. The third group are the therapeutic people. These people invite the mourner to teach them more about the loss.”
The three groups are easy to spot, Wolfelt said. After showing up for the funeral, signing a guest book, sending a card or flowers, the first group — the “neutrals” — simply don’t come around anymore; they stop offering support.
The second group offers advice of a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” or “keep your chin up” nature. These people speak in clichés, according to Wolfelt, with platitudes such as “God wouldn’t give you more than you can bear,” “Now you have an angel in heaven,” or “At least you had him for 50 good years.”
Wolfelt cited this second group as particularly troubling for his mother when his father passed away. “I taught my mom to tell these people, ‘He was a good man, and I want him for another 50 years.’”
Fortunately, bereaved individuals are pretty good at intuitively discerning the third group, Wolfelt said. He added that both the neutrals and the bootstrap/cliché talkers are usually avoiding their own need to deal with emotional issues.
Other topics Wolfelt will discuss April 24 at GJHS include, the uniqueness and individuality of grief for each person, the “ripple effect” of grief, customary symptoms of grief, the “Bill of Rights” of each mourner and others.
“Our culture tries to avoid grief,” Wolfelt said, “to go around it rather than go through it. We tell ourselves, ‘it’ll be easier if I don’t have a funeral, if I don’t go to the grave, if I just remember the person when they were alive.
We try to move forward without understanding that we must first move backward; we must first say ‘hello’ before we say ‘goodbye’; we must first traverse the darkness before we can find the light.”
During his thirty-plus-year career, Wolfelt has won the Death Educator Award from the Association for Death Education and Counseling and has served as a recurring expert for several media outlets, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Larry King Live,” and “Today” on NBC. He’s also authored over thirty books.
His GJHS presentation is sponsored by the Decatur County Community Foundation, Porter-Oliger-Pearson Funeral Home, Decatur County Memorial Hospital and Greensburg Community Schools.
The program is free of charge and open to the public. Advance seats can be obtained by contacting Anita Navarra at 663-8427, x204 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program begins at 7 p.m., April 24, in the GJHS auditorium.
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011