Friday, November 4, 2011

Give Grief a Chance

I remember the afternoon years ago in Nova Scotia when my grandmother died. My father, her eldest son, wrote her obituary at the kitchen table, then phoned the funeral director to arrange her service. He walked to the man’s office 20 minutes away, but about an hour later I was surprised to see him coming back up the front steps. The funeral director had taken care of almost everything before my father even arrived.

After all, the man knew my grandmother was a faithful Presbyterian, so he’d called her minister asking that Wednesday afternoon be available for her service. He phoned the organist and choir director since they’d certainly be taking part. He phoned the cemetery to have her grave ready. Tuesday, the day before the service, would be for afternoon and evening visitations at her home, her casket open in the living room. So my father simply chose a casket, signed a document or two, and that was that. All went as my father liked things to go: in keeping with custom. That’s how it was back then.

That distant afternoon came back to me recently when a small spiritual group in Toronto asked me to speak about how rituals of death are changing. To my mind, the shifts seemed to begin in the early 1960s. It was, of course, the opening of a tumultuous decade, one in which everything was up for change, including the mourning traditions my father adhered to. The funeral itself became the object of criticism in 1963 when the bestseller The American Way of Death dismissed funerals as morbid extravagances.

Sometime in the 1990s, a United Church member who is also a funeral director in a mid-sized Ontario city called me to talk about how dramatically different his work had become. “Now when our phone rings,” I remember him saying, “we haven’t any sense of what to expect. Sometimes it’s cremation with no service at all. Or maybe it’s a celebration of life with wine and cheese at a club, the date to be announced.” When he’d started out years before, he saw his task as helping people through mourning. “Now it seems many people almost want to skip mourning,” he said.
Diminished funeral customs are admittedly less expensive. But some grief specialists warn we may be eroding helpful rituals of bereavement, the loss of which we may not notice at first.

Such specialists often question the trend to replace words like “funeral” and “memorial service” with “celebration of life.” They see it as a subtle attempt to avoid the reality of death, which we ought to recognize even when painful. Their skepticism about “celebration of life” strikes me as understandable, especially in regard to some funerals I’ve conducted and can never forget: the young child who died of cancer, the 20-year-old who hanged himself, the actor stabbed to death in his home. In such tragic circumstances, the word “celebration” has, to me, an inappropriate, even offensive ring.

Moreover, since the focus of a celebration of life is usually the earthly existence of the deceased, it may overlook the very belief we proclaim in our statement of faith: “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.” This omission is unfortunate. After all, as progressive theologian John Shelby Spong writes, “If a man or woman dies will he or she live again? My answer would be yes, yes and yes.” The growing use of the phrase “celebration of life” may justify what the late grief specialist and psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote in her book On Grief and Grieving: “We live in a new death-denying, grief-dismissing world.”

Regrettable evidence that Kübler-Ross was right can be seen in Ontario: in the 1990s, funeral directors found themselves with so many unclaimed cremated remains that the province granted them permission to inter the urns in common ground if unretrieved by families after one year.

And yet, though our culture may indeed be death denying, people still mourn. Many line highway bridges in Ontario as caskets of young soldiers killed in Afghanistan pass below. Paying their respects, as our parents used to say. The funeral processions for police officers killed on duty draw television cameras and throngs of mourners, while flower garlands on telephone poles mark the site of fatal car accidents. So if our rituals are eroding, our inborn desire to mourn fellow humans has not disappeared. In my own life, I’ve lost friends but (for reasons I’ll never fully understand) have had no chance to pay my respects. Two were friends whose obituaries mentioned a celebration of life at a place and date to be announced. I watched. There was no announcement — certainly none I could find. What I missed, apart from the theology of it all, was the chance to say goodbye.
I thought of that a few months ago after conducting a funeral for a woman whose only surviving immediate family member was her younger brother. After the benediction, the congregation followed the casket outside the chapel. Once it was placed inside the hearse and we heard the familiar thump of the door closing, everyone began to make their way to the social gathering. But her brother and I just stood there, watching the hearse move slowly into the busy traffic of the city. Then he raised his arm and waved a long goodbye.

Grief scholar Dana G. Cable, a psychologist and board member of the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care until his death last year, worried about the loss of funerary rituals. In an essay in the book Living with Grief, he expressed concern about bypassing valid customs. Society, he said, must “encourage the return to meaningful rituals, which facilitate grief for the survivors.” Cable believed in viewing the deceased prior to the funeral, a tradition now rarely observed in liberal Christian and secular circles though retained by many in our multicultural society. It helps, he wrote, in acknowledging the reality of death.

In recent years, researchers have been using clinical methods to study grief, following the bereaved over months, even years. Columbia University psychologist George Bonanno has done the best-known study. His conclusion, based on 20 years of observation, is that most people are resilient, recovering from grief naturally and at times without help from professional therapists or support groups. “The good news is that for most of us, grief is not overwhelming or unending. As frightening as the pain of loss can be, most of us are resilient,” he writes in The Other Side of Sadness. “We may be shocked, even wounded, by a loss, but we still manage to regain our equilibrium and move on.”
A surprising number of novelists, journalists and poets are also writing of bereavement, often their own. Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren noted in February, “Now we have widow lit — a wave of books unleashed by the experience of losing a loved one.” In several cities in Canada, walking groups are forming for mourners to grieve their loss while strolling. As one organizer said in a Globe and Mail report, “We’re not counsellors. We don’t try to fix anything.”

One recent, touching book, The Heart Does Break, is a collection of essays by Canadians who’ve faced loss. In the introduction, poet George Bowering, who compiled the essays with Jean Baird, echoes the spirit in which we might approach friends enduring bereavement: “If you want to say something to a widower or mother or brother, say it simply: ‘I am sorry for your loss. May I bring you some tea?’”

Honesty requires an acknowledgment that having faith doesn’t mean grief is more easily borne. When 20th-century Christian writer C. S. Lewis lost his wife, he was overwhelmed. In his memoir, A Grief Observed, he said faith actually created problems because other people offered facile admonitions. “Don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion,” he wrote, “or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

For those who wish to help people in grief, the lesson appears to be not glib words but kind deeds. The church should also take heed. There’s probably never been a time in United Church history when strong pastoral care was more needed. Our church is aging, so issues of death and bereavement draw ever nearer. And though the historic focuses of our church are many, the care of those who grieve strikes me as something to be in the foreground. When death strikes, it’s not just a minister’s task and privilege to respond to the grieving, but everyone’s duty. Smaller congregations may do a better job of pastoral care at death because members know one another better. We needn’t have taken a course in grief therapy, read a book on grieving or even have great conversational gifts. In fact, it’s often quiet people who listen, call or write who help most. A woman who lost her son wrote to me not long ago that her greatest comfort was the friends who simply came, some driving through miles of snow, just to be with her.

A conversation I had in the late 1990s with politician Bob Rae comes back vividly. I met with him on behalf of the church to discuss the relationship between religious faith and social justice. He had come through great sadness: several years earlier, his wife’s parents had died, innocent victims of a head-on collision. We talked late into the afternoon about the many obligations of churches for social and economic improvement. Finally, I thanked him and got up to leave. But as I was opening the door, he said something I believe mattered profoundly to him. “But let’s not forget,” he said, “there’s also our living and our dying. And there’s plenty to do right there.”

Rev. Kenneth Bagnell is a volunteer associate minister at Eglinton St. George’s United in Toronto.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What we get when we give

If you do a nice thing for someone else knowing you'll reap some benefit yourself, is it still a good deed? What if your primary reason for doing it is because of the benefits it'll bring you?
Researchers spend a lot of time debating whether any altruistic act is ever truly selfless because we benefit so much when we are kind to others. I think of kindness like laughter: we might be laughing because we want someone else to feel good about their joke, but mostly we laugh because it feels good. Like laughter, kindness is a terrific happiness habit, good for both our physical and emotional well-being.
 Did you know that kinder people actually live longer, healthier lives? People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44 percent lower likelihood of dying—and that's after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status, and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church; it means that volunteering is nearly as beneficial to our health as quitting smoking!
We feel so good when we give because we get what researchers call a "helpers high," or a distinct physical sensation associated with helping. About half of participants in one study report that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth. This is probably a literal "high," similar to a drug-induced high: for example, the act of making a financial donation triggers the reward center in our brains that is responsible for dopamine-mediated euphoria. (For more on the "helper's high," check out this essay by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander, published this month on Greater Good.)
Finally, nearest and dearest to my heart, kindness makes us happy. Volunteer work substantially reduces symptoms of depression; both helping others and receiving help is associated with lowered anxiety and depression.
This may be especially true for kids. Adolescents who identify their primary motive as helping others are three times happier than those who lack such altruistic motivation. Similarly, teens who are giving are also happier and more active, involved, excited, and engaged than their less engaged counterparts. Generous behavior reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk, and several studies have shown that teenagers who volunteer are less likely to fail a subject in school, get pregnant, or abuse substances. Teens who volunteer also tend to be more socially competent and have higher self-esteem.
It isn't just that kind people also tend to be healthier and happier, or that happy, healthy people are more kind. Experiments have actually demonstrated again and again that kindness toward others actually causes us to be happier, improves our health, and lengthens our lives.

So if we want to raise kids that are happy and healthy, one of the best things we can do is teach them to be kind.
© 2010 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BM Care Teams/Equipos de Cuidado

Queridos compañeros(as) en el Ideal Espirita, deseamos compartir con todos las informaciones sobre un entrenamiento que estamos recibiendo del Baptist Health, referente a los "Equipos de Cuidado Post-Operatorio, Espiritual y Practico".
Silvio Lima y Ana Maria Tavares durante el entrenamiento
El curso consta de 24 horas, 3 Sabados, 8 horas c/u, donde se prepara el participante para ofrecer atencion a personas, que se encuentran en sus hogares con dificultades de transporte, sea este por procedimiento quirurgico o por enfermedad cronica. El participante del equipo de cuidado estara preparado para ofrecer ayuda practica, realizar evaluacion emocional y brindar soporte espiritual.
Esperamos al finalizar el entrenamiento inicial poder organizar un equipo de visitas, conformado por miembros de Bezerra de Menezes, que pueda recibir referidos del Baptist Hospital y tambien atender las necesidades de nuestros miembros, de manera profesional y coordinada. En este entrenamiento los participantes fueron limitados a 4 por agencia. Por Bezerra de Menezes esta participando Silvio Lima, Ana Maria Tavares, Blanca Hernandez y Luis Salazar, quienes luego podran pasar las informaciones a otros miembros que deseen ayudar en este esfuerzo.
El estudio es dinamico, participativo, incluye mucho trabajo en grupo y caracterizaciones (Role play),para familiarizar el participante con situaciones que pueden ocurrir.
Esperamos poder mantenerlos informados y contar con su apoyo, como siempre.
Abrazo fraterno

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grupo de Apoyo durante el Luto

"La pérdida y el duelo nos acompañan a lo largo de nuestra vida. Los investigadores interesados en el proceso del duelo han estudiado muchas cuestiones al respecto, como la descripción y explicaciones sociológicas, los rasgos clínicos de las reacciones normales y patológicas en las distintas edades, sexo y culturas; los programas de prevención, la relación entre el duelo y otras clases de pérdida, así como las diversas formas culturales del luto. Ahora, un reciente estudio muestra empíricamente el curso normal de los sentimientos tras la muerte de una persona allegada." Montse Arboix.

Estudiando sentimientos

"Un grupo de psiquiatras de EEUU ha realizado el primer estudio retrospectivo con 233 personas que habían sufrido la pérdida de un familiar por muerte natural. El estudio, publicado en The Journal of the American Medical Association, ratifica primero las etapas clásicas del proceso de duelo establecidas desde la década de los 60 por el psicoanalista británico John Bowlby y, segundo, la misma sucesión que él apuntaba: la negación es más fuerte al principio del duelo, seguida por la añoranza, la ira y la depresión. A partir de los seis meses, estos sentimientos empiezan a descender y aumenta la aceptación." Montse Arboix.

Etapas del Duelo

1. Fase inicial o de negacion: Reacción normal y terapéutica, surge como defensa y perdura hasta que el Yo consiga asimilar gradualmente el golpe. Shock e incredulidad, incluso negación que dura horas, semanas o meses. Sentimiento arrollador de tristeza, el cual se expresa con llanto frecuente. Inicia el proceso de duelo el poder ver el cuerpo y lo que oficializa la realidad de la muerte es el entierro o funeral, que cumple varias funciones, entre ellas la de separar al muerto de los vivos.
2. Fase aguda de duelo: Dolor por la separación, desinterés por el mundo, preocupación por la imagen del muerto, incluso seudo-alucinaciones, la rabia emerge suscitando angustia. Trabajo penoso de deshacer los lazos que continúan el vínculo con la persona o animal amados y reconocer la ambivalencia de toda relación; todas las actividades del doliente pierden significado en esta fase. Va disminuyendo con el tiempo, pero pueden repetirse en ocasiones como los aniversarios y puede durar 6 meses o más.
3. Resolución del duelo: Fase final, gradual reconexión con vida diaria, estabilización de altibajos de etapa anterior. Los recuerdos de la persona desaparecida traen sentimientos cariñosos, mezclados con tristeza, en lugar del dolor agudo y la nostalgia.

Tareas para completar el Duelo:

  • Aceptar la realidad de la pérdida.
  • Experimentar la realidad de la pérdida.
  • Sentir el dolor y todas sus emociones.
  • Adaptarse a un ambiente en el cual falta el ser que murió, aprender a vivir sin esa persona o animal, tomar decisiones en soledad, retirar la energía emocional y reinvertirla en nuevas relaciones.
¿Cómo saber cuando pedir ayuda tras una pérdida?
(a) En general cuando:
  • Nos encontramos bloqueados
  • Somos incapaces de sentir nada, meses después de tener la pérdida
  • O, a la inversa, cuando nos sentimos abrumados y bloqueados en un sufrimiento intenso, hasta el punto en que nosotros y quienes se encuentran bajo nuestra responsabilidad están en “peligro” (p.e., ideación o planificación suicida).
(b) En concreto cuando tenemos:
  • Fuertes sentimientos de culpabilidad
  • Pensamientos suicidas
  • Desesperanza extrema
  • Agitación o depresión prolongada
  • Síntomas físicos que pueden significar una amenaza para el bienestar físico
  • Rabia descontrolada
  • Dificultad persistente para mantener un trabajo o llevar a cabo tareas cotidianas.
  • Abuso de sustancias
El Grupo de Apoyo durante el Luto del Bezerra de Menezes  le ofrece ayuda, consuelo e información a usted y su familia en este momento de dolor que puede estar atravesando.
Reuniones: 1er y 3er Miercoles de cada mes. Horario: 7:30 PM / 9 PM (Duracion 1:30 mins). Bezerra de Menezes Spiritist Center 6450 NW 77th CT Miami FL 33166
Mas informacion: o al Telef: 305.477.4148

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Reunion de Trabajadores del Area Social Espirita

El Viernes 10 de Junio 2011, despues de la reunion mensual de Pen Pal (Amigos por Correspondencia) que busca ofrecer compañia y solidaridad para hermanos y hermanas que se encuentran en las prisiones, participamos en la primera reunion mensual para Trabajadores del Area Social Espirita.  En nuestra Casa Bezerra de Menezes tenemos varias actividades que atienden las necesidades de muchos hermanos y hermanas.  Por ejemplo la Caravana del Amor, programa de visitas a hogares de ancianos, donde con la alegria de la musica y el calor humano se reparte alegria para estas personas que residen lejos de sus familiares.  El Food Pantry, es tambien una actividad del area social que brinda alimentos a las families e individuos necesitados, a traves de un contrato de distribucion que tenemos con el USDA y tambien por donaciones privadas.  En ambas actividades se presenta una gran oportunidad de practicar las enseñanzas cristianas y son oportunidades de crecimiento personal para aquellos que en ellas participan, asi los conceptos de Tolerancia, Solidaridad y Trabajo quedan enmarcados en una dinamica interactiva que promueve su desarrollo de forma natural en cada uno de los participantes.
En esta reunion fue presentada una Guia de Apoyo al Trabajador Espirita del Area de Asistencia y Promocion Social, que comprende varias lecturas y actividades para desarrollar en grupo.  Los participantes de esta reunion compartieron sus experiencias personales, dentro de una dinamica de dialogo fraterno, sobre lo que significa para cada uno el trabajo voluntario y como concepto mas amplio el Amor al Projimo.  De todos los cometarios y experiencias compartidas, pudimos beneficiarnos al descubrir la enseñanza en cada una de las experiencias narradas, motivandonos a fortalecer el equipo de trabajo, emocional y espiritualmente, para desarrollar un trabajo de asistencia y divulgacion cada vez mas efectivo.
La reunion finalizo en armonia con un abrazo fraterno entre todos y una fotografia para el recuerdo.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Procesando nuestras perdidas

Ligia Houben y Zenaida Garcia Facilitadora del grupo
en el Bezerra de Menezes
Este Sabado Junio 11, 2011, tuvimos la maravillosa oportunidad de participar en un Reencuentro con Ligia M. Houben, MA, CT, CG-C, ACCP Consultora y Coach en Transiciones de Vida, Conferencista Motivacional y Autora, Consejera Certificada de Duelo-Tanatóloga.  En este reencuentro pudimos compartir con Ligia nuestras experiencias como Facilitadores de grupos de apoyo por perdida de seres queridos, comentamos aquellas situaciones dificiles y recibimos su asesoramiento sobre el manejo de las diferentes situaciones.  En un ambiente muy fraterno, compartimos con representantes de otras iglesias de Miami-Dade por dos horas, donde recibimos tips, orientaciones y el estimulo de Ligia para continuar nuestra labor, en beneficio de aquellos que atraviesan situaciones de perdidas.  
Ligia Houben y participantes en el reencuentro
El Grupo de Apoyo Durante el Luto funciona en el Bezerra de Menezes, el 1er y 3er Miercoles de cada mes, de 7:30 PM a 9 PM
Ligia Houben web site

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Actividades Viernes Junio 10, 2011

Viernes Junio 10, 2011
7 PM Reunión mensual  de Pen Pal
(Asistencia a prisioneros por correspondencia)
 8 PM Reunión mensual sobre el Trabajo Social Espirita
Reunión de confraternización, dialogo, armonización, conocimiento intimo, educación de sentimientos, oración, para trabajadores espiritas o interesados en participar.
“LA SOLIDARIDAD ESPIRITA se manifiesta particularmente en el campo de la asistencia a la pobreza, a los enfermos y desvalidos. El gran impulso en ese sentido fue dado, desde el inicio del movimiento doctrinario en Francia, por el libro El evangelio según el Espiritismo, de Allan Kardec.”  Prof. J. Herculano Pires