Atlanta Grief Group Starting in March 2018

“In an important sense, stories are the medium through which we live, love and grieve.”  (from Remembering Lives pg. 44)

What are the moments you recall with your loved one?  How do those moments inform you today?  How would knowing your loved one benefit others?  The upcoming grief group at Metropolitan Counseling Services will invite reflection on these questions and more.  Often we are taught that in order to grieve properly we must let go and move-on.  In this group we may ask different questions: What would you like to hold onto?  How will your life be different if you carry this with you?

If you are intrigued by these questions call or email me:

404-321-1794 x316

evalera@mcsatlanta.org

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Maternal Mental Health Day

In honor of Maternal Mental Health Day, I want to acknowledge all the parents who have experienced the death of their baby.

World Maternal Mental Health Day at postpartum.net reports:

It is estimated that 20 – 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. In addition to grief, many of these women also experience postpartum depression. Giving birth to a premature child, or having a child spend extended time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, can also take a toll on maternal mental health.

When I began my career as a chaplain in 1999, my first internship assignment was in an Alzheimer’s Unit.  I would often listen to the stories of the middle-stage Alzheimer’s patients as they shared the glimpses of memories that passed through their minds, mixing decades together through loose associations.  At times, I noticed a woman would state that she had more children than we knew of.  Sometimes, it became apparent that she had a baby who died as an infant, who she had never really mentioned in public or included in her “official” count of children.  But, in her heart, the memory of that child was still there. Sometimes, a family member would put the pieces together and share the story behind the child that died. Often they would say, “Oh, she never talked about that.”  I always felt honored to hear those stories, even if I never could confirm their accuracy.

My second assignment was in the neo-natal intensive care unit.  I was with parents who were facing a serious illness and sometimes even the death of their own baby, in the here-and-now.  The natural questions arose: Why? What should we do? What should we tell people?  And, often the terrible false feeling that “I’m not really a parent.”  The women in the Alzheimer’s unit never stopped being a parent to their babies who died, and I learned to understand that the birth-mothers and parents in the ICU would always be parents to their babies, as well.  Each pregnancy is a little different, and the personality of the child may be present in those differences. For the generation of women in the Alzheimer’s center, it may have been taboo to speak about a miscarriage or stillbirth.

My hope for our generation is that the stories of these babies will be more and more interwoven into our family stories through the years, that we will know their names, that parents will not have to wait until our dying days to share the love that remains in their hearts for these babies.  Let us speak their names, and share their stories…they are part of us, and we will remember them.

Check out the H.E.A.R.T. strings Perinatal Bereavement & Palliative Care Program for additional resources from Northside Hospital in Atlanta  or Rachel’s Gift for support group at DeKalb Medical among others.

Endings…

I was probably about 17 years old when I first read the poem “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant.  I was immediately taken by his depiction of each life eventually reaching an end and becoming part of creation again.  Up until that point, I had contemplated various views on what happens after we die.  Only in “Thanatopsis” could I see something that concretely made sense.   During my years as a hospice chaplain, I often talked with people who were near death and their families.  I saw people having visions of beautiful places, talking with family members who had died decades ago,  tossing imaginary cigarette butts, talking with angels, wielding invisible paint brushes, and many times lifting their arms upward, calling out for “mama”.

Oftentimes, people are hesitant to share about these strange experiences that happen around the time of death.  Usually, the story starts with something like, “I don’t want you to think I’m crazy, but…”  I always have a smile inside when I hear these words, because I know something very valuable is about to be expressed!  These experiences are part of “nearing death awareness” or  “nearing death communication” (see Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan).  These special forms of communication give us an indication of what is happening with the person who is dying.  If we listen closely to the words being shared, the gestures being made, the names being called, the songs being sung, the dreams and visions being seen, we can be more fully present and comfort the dying person in their journey.  Looking back on these moments and unpacking their meaning may also help us to understand our own grief experiences.

This week, I will be travelling from my home-base in Atlanta to Portland, OR for the 2017 Association of Death Education and Counseling Conference (ADEC)!  I know…my friends and family usually smirk and say something like, “Don’t get wild and crazy at that death conference,” or “Oy, you’re going to that death conference again!?”  The thing about it is that most of the people I meet at the “death conference” have had some up close and personal experiences with death and grief.   Like myself, they may work in Palliative Care or Hospice, they may be counselors at colleges and universities where grieving students are working hard to stay in class; they may be poets (like William Cullen Bryant) who try to give the experience of death and grief a voice; they may be researchers who are finding new ways to understand the phenomenon of grief and the best forms of counseling.  Death touches all of us and yet we too often shy away from talking about it.  At ADEC, Thanatologists gather to hear about the latest research, learn best practices from experts around the world, reflect on our own experiences with death and grief, remember those who have died during the past year, and all the while honor both the pain and the mystery that lies at the heart of our experiences of life and death.