Bereavement Counseling: 13 Months Toward Creating the New Normal
“There are so many variables to experiencing loss. Consider, if everyone has a unique thumb print, everyone has a unique heart print.”
These are the words of wisdom from someone who has seen a lot of loss and grieving, and who has given out a lot of hope: Vickie Mears, Director of Grief Support Services at Crossroads Hospice in Kansas City, MO.
Mears, who started her career working in a doctor’s office and later went on to earn her Masters in Social Work, has been working in bereavement counseling for 10 years. Over the past decade, she’s worked with many grieving people, each with unique needs. She was inspired to work with people, on a “heart-to-heart” level, which she found as a bereavement counselor.
A bereavement counselor, also known as a bereavement coordinator, was actually named one of the top 100 best jobs in America by CNN based on personal satisfaction and benefit to society. A person in this position is responsible for a variety of tasks, all with the end goal of helping to monitor a family’s bereavement process. A coordinator would help arrange funeral services, and provide counseling and additional information, depending on the grieving person’s needs.
Mears explains that bereavement counseling isn’t helping people go back to normal -- it’s creating a new normal. “Bereavement counseling is the ability to express and lend hope to those who are feeling hopeless,” Mears says. “A person who is a bereavement counselor needs to believe that healing of the heart is possible.”
Beyond creating a new normal, another objective during counseling is to dispel myths surrounding grief. “Many healthcare providers are giving out incorrect information [about grief],” she says. “Stages of grief information is given out, but it’s not supported by research. [It doesn’t take into account] the individualism of grief.”
Other myths that Mears works to dispel are that “time heals all wounds,” but, “not all wounds are the same.” Mears says. Another myth is that those grieving need to “stay strong for others,” but that “promotes dishonesty with others and oneself.”
There’s evidence that the first year of bereavement is one of the hardest: studies have shown that most people demonstrate disrupted functioning as they try to deal with the death of a loved one. This includes cognitive disorganization, dysphoria, health deficits and disruptions in both social and occupational functioning.
That’s where bereavement coordinators come in. People like Mears work with the patient’s loved ones to assess them and provide bereavement services for up 13 months. This counseling helps restore function for those experiencing grief. “We restore function as we encourage [people grieving] to do new tasks or new roles,” Mears says. “There are women who have never pumped gas [before losing their spouse], and people who don’t know how to write a check. We help them discover a new identity through what seems like small accomplishments.”
Bereavement counseling is a proactive approach to reduce the progression of grief to the diagnosis of complicated grief. Complicated grief requires grief therapy — which requires more frequent and in-depth care of the grieving person. “[Bereavement counseling] has the capacity to decrease the risk of problematic grief,” Mears says.
During bereavement counseling, services can vary. Services can include:
Family grief and loss issues
Social, religious and cultural issues
Addressing the potential for complicated grief reactions
As Mears said, “There are so many variables of experiencing loss,” so the 13-month timeline will vary from person to person. “A year is not magical,” Mears says. “For people, [bereavement counseling is needed] for six months; for some people, it’s two years.”
There are some milestones that Crossroads Hospice include in most bereavement counseling. Those include:
Sending a condolence card
Calling the grieving person to offer condolences
Calling to offer a visit
Throughout the 13-month, bereavement-counseling period, Mears keeps in mind the two-fold significance of her role. “It’s our task to get out good information, [and the fact that] there are no stages and grief is emotional, physical and cognitive.” And, for the grieving, it’s communicating that “there are different styles of grief - one is not right, and one is not wrong.”
If you need more information on grief support, please call us at 888-564-3405 or visit our website.