There are times when people grieve as a community. I believe the same support provided to individual families is also needed by communities. Whether the loss was one of a well-known, respected and loved member of a community to loss of life as a result of a mass casualty incident-support is greatly needed by many people whose lives have been touched by the loss. Although grief is felt the greatest and the deepest by those who are the closest to the person who died, there is a whole community left with feelings of grief. From Columbine to the recent tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, we have all been a witness to the collateral damage to a community after a critical incident and I believe that aftercare, provided by a funeral home during these times is becoming increasingly important, if not necessary!
How do we, as funeral professionals support our communities in similar ways that we support our individual families?
As an aftercare coordinator for almost thirty years, my role is serving people who are grieving. My work is more of a ministry. A ministry born out of my own personal loss and heartache and a desire to help make a small difference in the lives of others who travel the same road as I have. I have listened, met with, talked to, written, emailed, cried with and sat with more people than I can count. I have listened to stories of lives that have passed, about relationships with many twists and turns, many versions of a life story-told differently among family members, stories of love, stories of hurt, stories of an individual’s experience of grief over the course of time.
I knew, from day one, the importance of providing helpful information about grief and how it effects people and their lives following a significant loss. I knew from day one, how important it is to provide an opportunity for grieving families to share their experience of grief-on an ongoing basis. I have long recognized that support groups, although underused, were a valuable option for families to consider. Sitting with others who have experienced the loss of a loved one to death, helps people to know they are not alone. Ultimately, what I learned was the value of this extension of service, called AFTERCARE, provided to families on behalf of the funeral homes that I have been blessed to work with and how it touches people’s lives-when people have nowhere else to turn.
In the aftermath of loss, Individual and community support becomes more necessary and helpful as time goes by. Our society does not know how to respond to grieving families. The perception is that as time goes on, people will get better and life will return to normal. This perception is the furthest from what grief is about. Additionally, there is a community of leaders, places of worship, business owners and others who need guidance in how best to support the bereaved. Where do they turn to? When the shock and initial outpouring of support dissipates and soon discontinues, the collateral damage will set in. Families and communities will be left with the raw reality that life as they once knew it has changed forever! This is when support will be needed the most.
I want to share two examples of community outreach events that I have been a part of and that I feel have been a great benefit to all who attended.
In addition to regular holiday programs, I have coordinated and facilitated special outreach events for a specific family who’s loved one’s life had touched a community. Family and friends turned out to honor and remember together. Not only is this helpful for the family, it is helpful for the community as well! Many of my funeral homes have allowed me to do these special events. They recognize that grief continues long past the funeral and effects more people than anyone would expect. Anyone who commented on attending one of these special events, always commended the funeral home for their hospitality and support.
Three months following the Parkland school shooting on February 14, 2018, I was invited to participate in a community outreach event that was coordinated to provide support to a grieving community. This event was planned, intentionally, to take place three months after the shooting. A team of people from across the country were called to service by a dear friend and colleague, Mitch Carmody, and informally and unofficially named, “The Emergency Grief Response Team”. Mitch called upon his many colleagues, that he has worked with, to join him in Parkland to provide a day of healing! The event was beyond amazing! I have never seen so many grief professionals, healing practitioners, workshops, activities, resources and volunteers, including a family of comfort dogs, come together in one place for a whole day, to support a community of grievers. Why are we not doing this in communities across the country? There are communities of people grieving all around us. I believe that this is an opportunity for funeral service to embrace. It is not a matter of “if” the next community loss event occurs, it is a matter of “when”! It is not a matter of if a well-known community member is lost, it’s a matter of when. Are you prepared for the “when”? Can your funeral home be the message of hope for a community who grieves-a place for people to turn to? You are the experts in death care-you are the experts in “Aftercare”. These are two valuable services that are provided by a funeral home and should be seen as such by your community!
I suggest that you contact grief professionals with any questions or comments about community outreach and how you can add these types of events to the services that you provide. There are many fine grief support professionals who are the experts in creating opportunities for people to receive the support that they need. Most of them work humbly and effortlessly to help make a small difference in people’s lives! Get connected and experience for yourself the benefits of providing this level of service. FBA
Linda Findlay is the founder of Mourning Discoveries, Grief Support Services. She is a 28-year career “Aftercare Coordinator”, a published author, an advocate for bereaved families and the founder and co- creator of Journeys of Hope Grief Support Outreach Programs. Linda can be reached at 315-725-6132, or can visit www.mouringdiscoveries.com and www.j3hhh.com, or email at [email protected]