I am reminded of a gentleman I met almost 30 years ago, Mr. David Fairfield, who got sober, and was rebuilding his life very effectively when he was given a diagnosis of cancer.
When I spoke to him he seemed mystified as to why it was happening to him, and I was unable to do anything but listen.
I did not get to talk to him again before his death, (we did not have a professional relationship), but many people in the AA community were very upset by the diagnosis, and began to spin out of control emotionally. (We had a small community back then).
David gathered strength from some deep place and modeled what I will call a conscious and purposeful dying and legacy for the AA community in Bloomington, Il.
He taught those of us lucky enough to know him about moving effectively towards this inevitable part of our lives, and in so doing modeled appropriate death and bereavement for many in the AA community.
I do not know that he had a counseling resource, although I believe that he would have sought out professional help from his religious guides, and perhaps his AA sponsor. I hope he did not have to bear that community burden alone.
It is snowing where I am now, in Rockford, Illinois, with my four year old daughter in the tub upstairs and my wife Julie getting ready for work, and we are headed towards the winter solstice, which is always a time of reflection and reassessement for me, a time of slowing down, and comfort maybe.
I wonder if Dave had a bereavement counselor?
And what is a bereavement counselor?
Everything dies. It's a fact of life we learn at a very young age. But this knowledge doesn't make experiencing the death of a beloved friend, colleague, family member or pet any more bearable.
Often when people die, the feelings of grief, anger and dismay of those they have left behind become overwhelming.
Individuals or whole families can fall apart as a result of a death, and it requires an outside party to come along and see them through this difficult time.
Bereavement counselors are trained to help people cope with death.
They may meet with terminally ill people and their families, helping them adjust to the inevitable changes in their futures.
They meet with people immediately following a death, as well as meet with clients who are finding themselves unable to have close relationships or are terrified of certain situations because there was a death in their past which was never properly dealt with.
Whatever the situation, bereavement counselors analyze client history, assess their current situation, and develop strategies for their client to cope and grieve in a healthy, beneficial way.
Hopefully, this will mend rifts in family relationships, and prevent new traumas and difficulties from developing in the future.
Bereavement counselors can work with clients individually, or can host group support sessions. They use photographs and stories to bring back positive memories of the lost loved one. They may work with a client only a few times, or be in constant contact for a number of years. Contact can take place in person, over the Internet, over the phone or in letters. The bereavement counselor can become like a friend who is no longer needed when the grieving period is over and acceptance and peace are realized.
Employed by the government and in private practice, bereavement counselors work with other social workers and counselors to discuss clients and client histories. They need to be emotionally stable, and not afraid or nervous when it comes to talking about death. Bereavement counseling can be taxing and frustrating, but also fulfilling at the same time. Bereavement counselors need to have a genuine interest in helping people come to terms with some of the most difficult situations in their lives. They need to be mature, professional and organized. They must be good communicators who are sensitive to their clients' distress, and willing to listen. Bereavement counselors are also creative problem solvers who work with clients to find what is best for them in the grieving process.
One of the tools that a bereavement counselor may use is a life review, written and it could be video these days.
I first became aware of this kind of tool when I read the historian Stephen Ambrose's work around the time of the fiftieth anniversary of WWII, "Band Of Brothers" and "Citizen Soldiers", where Ambrose was collecting autobiographical stories of the participants for his work, and those participants were making peace, I believe, with themselves, the events, and even their former adversaries.
I know that I and my sister will work on this when she visits this Christmas because I would like my children to have it.
Life Review or Journal Therapy
Kathleen Adams is an expert in therapeutic journaling and its use as a healing tool, and a bereavement counselor would do well to explore her thoughts.
"Journal therapy -- the purposeful and intentional use of reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and wellness -- is an effective means of providing focus and clarity to issues, concerns, conflicts and confusions. Journal therapy transforms the traditional diary into a genuine, unique therapeutic method that offers cost-effective, holistic self-management. Through the introduction of style, technique, creativity, intimacy and mastery, your life journal is an ongoing companion and guide."
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