This past week, in a Grand Hyatt a quarter of a mile from San Antonio’s River Walk, hundreds of professionals from the fields of death, dying, grief and bereavement converged for the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC)’s Annual Conference. Renowned grief theorists, enthusiastic young students, hospice workers, grief therapists, and even a few grief-website–type-people all gathered in one place to share their knowledge, learn from others, and explore.
I can tell some of you are less than enthused about this post so far. Let’s be honest, despite the growing number of people who’d like to normalize the conversation around death and grief, these topics remain taboo. And although many have had contact with fairly normal grief support professionals, some still assume it takes a “special” kind of person to work in a vocation related to death.
Actually, throughout our travels Litsa and I have discovered that it does take a special kind of person.
For the record, we’re not saying either of us are super (personally, I’m a bit more of an Oren), but many of the people we met at the ADEC conference were. Not only were the people we met super, but many are doing smart, creative, interesting, and innovative things in their work.
This has to do with you, trust me.
As you may know, grief has the capacity to make people feel isolated, alone, misunderstood, and lost; but did you know there were people working to change this? If the theorists and researchers do their job to increase our collective understanding –> and support workers and therapists do their job to establish improvements in the area of grief support and counseling –> and authors and grief-website-type-people do their job to disseminate information to the broader public –> then theoretically the pendulum should shift towards a more understanding, compassionate and supportive society.
This was our first trip to the ADEC conference and by the end we walked away feeling encouraged about the state of good grief support, although we acknowledge there is more work to be done. Now we were only able to take in about 30% of the conference (there was a lot to do), but we still managed to learn quite a bit. We’d like to take a few minutes to share some of our broad impressions because this conference has to do with you, the griever, as much as anyone else.
1. There are people who care…a lot.
It can sometimes feel like people don’t truly care about understanding grief; not in its entirety at least. Friends and community members want to make sure they send the right casserole and write the appropriate message in their sympathy card, but sticking around long-term is often the exception, not the rule. When a griever feels the world has walked out, our hope is that they might be held up by a safety-net provided by grief support professionals.
Now we know the safety-net sometimes fails and good grief support is not always as readily available as we’d like it to be, but there are people working to change this reality. For the skeptics, we’re here to tell you that there are people who care a great deal about providing the best grief therapy, grief support groups, and grief resources possible. Even for those who will never seek formal therapy or support, there are people who care about changing the way society understands, views, and supports the grieving.
Although our confidence in the enthusiasm, dedication, and expertise of end-of-life and grief support workers has been renewed, this has only served to highlight our concern for those who seek grief support and find people offering “therapy,” “coaching,” or “action plans” without the chops to back it up. If you seek grief counseling outside of the hospice or grief center setting, be sure to ask if the counselor has any specific training, education, and/or professional grief counseling experience; if you attend a grief support group and it doesn’t seem well run, try another; and if something generally seems fake or too-good-to-be-true, proceed with caution.
2. Grief centers rock.
We were already on a grief-center-high after recent visits to Full Circle Grief Center in Virginia and Highmark Caring Place in Pennsylvania and now we’re even more resolute in our belief that a good grief center should be in the heart of every city and every town (a girl can dream). We were particularly dreamy-eyed after listening to leadership from the Dougy Center speak, the services they provide seem top-notch and their views on grief and grief support are informed and thoughtful.
Those of you who regularly read the blog might remember we love the Family Lives On Foundation. After having the chance to hang out with their passionate staff and discuss their work helping grieving families continue traditions throughout many parts of the country, we are stronger supporters than before.
Of course, we now want more grief-center-awesomeness. We know that although these centers are doing wonderful things in their areas, in many parts of the country great centers like these are not available. Also, due to lack of awareness, sometimes a good grief center exists but people in the community don’t know it’s there to utilize. If you or someone in your family is grieving, we suggest doing a little research. You could try looking at the listings through the National Alliance for Grieving Children or the National Bereavement Resource Guide maintained by the Moyer Foundation.
3. People are getting creative.
We were pretty excited to see a strong creative presence at the ADEC conference. We met a doctoral. student conducting research on two of our favorite things 1) using photography to cope with grief and 2) grief graffiti and murals. We also met a gentleman out of Chicago who’s dedicated his life’s work to taking beautiful end-of–life portraits. Lastly, we would be remiss in not saying we had the chance to see Lori Mason’s memorial quilts in person and they are even more stunning than we imagined.
4. New grief-therapy treatments are being developed.
We’ll save the specifics for another day, but I think it’s reassuring to know we’re not getting stuck in our ways. As we begin to understand more about how things like personality, neurobiology, personal history, culture, and society impact grief, we’re able to refine our approach to treatment accordingly.
5. We’re casting a wider net.
Throughout the course of our visit to ADEC, Litsa and I noted more than once the occasional disconnect between the general public and everything that’s going on in the fields of death, dying, grief and bereavement. Although we think there is certainly more to be done to ensure good grief support is available to all, we are encouraged. This is especially so when we see people from large grief websites like the Grief Toolbox and Open to Hope, not only working amongst the group, but also providing a platform for grief professionals to share their thoughts with the wider public (we’ll point you in the direction of these things when they are made available).
This seems like enough for one day. Now, go check out the resources in your community. Oh wait, first subscribe to receive posts straight to your inbox.