Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 25, 2004
Take grief one step at a time
Reaching out for help can ease the grieving process
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Grief is a normal response to a death or major loss in a person's life. It is part of a process called bereavement which helps someone let go of the past and adjust to a new life without the person who died.
People go through grief every time they suffer a loss, be it death, separation or divorce.
"Grieving is the whole physical and emotional and spiritual and painful journey that we go through to come to terms with the loss of something that's so profoundly important to us," explained Sandra Konrad, who coordinates and facilitates a grief workshop put on by Catholic Social Services.
"(Grieving) can be incredibly stressful because we have to make such major adjustments in our lives and we don't want to do that."
Grief takes time
The grieving process may last a couple of years and quite often longer, stressed Konrad. "I don't think it's a short process. Lots of people get the idea that they should be over it in two years and they are not. It is such an overwhelmingly big thing to lose somebody that you have tied your life to in so many ways - emotionally and legally and family-wise.
"You have to learn to do everything from taking out the garbage to deciding to put new shingles on your house."
Konrad is still grieving for a close friend she lost eight years ago. "We go through the loss over and over again in our life," she says. "We go through all kinds of emotional states, we struggle against it (because) we don't want it to have happened to us, we are angry, depressed, and sad and then we are hopeful and confident and then sometimes we crush and go through it all over again.
"I think it's like a cycle that just keeps (going), like the seasons. I suppose it gets a bit easier as time goes on. But people find that they've always been affected by the loss."
Grieving is best done in the company of others. "Help can be in the form of very caring friends or through sharing with others who have been on the same journey," Konrad says.
She leads New Beginnings, a live-in weekend retreat for people who have lost a life partner through death, separation or divorce.
The purpose of the workshop is to help people deal with their emotions more easily "and to help them to see that there will be an end to it and that they are changed because of this loss." The workshop also aims at giving grieving people "a ray of hope about the future."
Konrad doesn't think everybody needs professional help to get over the death of somebody dear and said one of the good things about New Beginnings is that it's not really "professional" help. "It's skilled, caring help, but it is not professional help. That's one of the real beauties of New Beginnings because we don't all need a psychologist to help us get through this."
The program, she said, treats grieving people as people having a very difficult time in their lives, not as patients.
A total of four leaders, including three trained volunteers, walk participants through the weekend. They tell their own stories of loss to encourage participants to do the same. Participants are divided into several small groups.
The team leads participants through a three-stage process, including addressing the loss and coming to terms with their emotions and letting go of the hurt, anger and bitterness that keeps them from making a new beginning in their lives.
"One of the things the workshop does is it encourages participants to tell their own story of their loss," Konrad said. "What we fully acknowledge is that we have to tell our story just enough times in a caring environment to finally discharge the pain, the hurt.
"And then by sharing our stories together we find more courage, we find some new ideas about how we can go on. And then people aren't so alone anymore and I think that's really important."
New Beginnings is held two or three times a year and is designed for people who are ready to move on from their grieving to make a new start in life regardless of the length of time since their loss. It is open to people of all faith backgrounds and makes use of spirituality and symbolism to assist in the discovery of new meaning in a person's present life and changing circumstances.
"We really acknowledge the whole person who is grieving from their beliefs about life and life after death to the meaning of loss in their life," Konrad said of the weekend workshop, which she has been leading since 1987.
New Beginnings was first held in Edmonton in 1980. Since then the program has served more than 1,000 people in the Edmonton area.
By listening to each others' stories participants find out how far along in the grieving process they are. "They hear, for instance, that people are able to now cope with being alone in public or they are not crying every night when they go to bed anymore and they say, 'Oh, I haven't done that yet or I've done that. Oh, I feel better about myself.' They spend a lot of time reflecting on their experience."
In addition to small group sharing, the workshop also used periods of individual reflection to guide participants through the healing process and through the process of setting new goals for themselves and their lives.
Most participants don't like the "time alone" they are given to reflect. "It drives people a little bit crazy (because) they don't like to be alone, but it's important to be alone and together with other people," Konrad noted.
Most participants do feel better after the weekend. "One of the most important things that happen is that people start developing friendships through the weekend so that they have people to call after who understand where they are at or they have somebody to go for coffee or a movie with; they start developing new friendships."
Konrad said every aspect of a person is involved in the grieving process, including the physical, social, spiritual and psychological - all of which are addressed by the workshop.
While the pain never really ends, those who attend the workshop get better at dealing with it. "You learn to handle it better and you can say, 'Oh, my God, that still hurts but I don't need to let it take my life over anymore.'"
The next New Beginnings weekend will be held at Providence Renewal Centre, 3005-119 St., Nov. 19-21. The fee is $300 and includes buffet meals and single accommodations. To register call (780) 420-6081.
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