Dealing with loss: Grief can unite strangers, help heal

I was 19 or so at the time. My mom came running to me, just as I was about to head out to my journalism class. I could hear some garbled words over the cordless phone she held upside down in her hand.

Mom, in an unusually urgent fashion, didn’t mince words. Her cousin, a 30-something mother of two, had been in an accident. A truck had hit her car from behind on a busy New Delhi road as she was on her way to the school where she taught English.

She was in a hospital and needed blood.

We rushed to be by her side. My mom tried to stay composed, as did I, not willing to grasp the possibility that she wouldn’t make it. She had two little ones to love and raise, after all. Her son was about 4 and her daughter barely 9 months old.

I donated blood. We prayed feverishly. She didn’t make it.

Memories of a father performing some of the final rituals on his daughter are still seared in my mind.

Somehow, everyone coped. Moved on? I’m not so sure.

There’s the immediate sense of loss, a stabbing pain, almost. Then, over time, the pain dulls but the memories and occasional reminders definitely linger – some days sharper than others.

The importance of a healthy grieving process became very clear to me on a recent weekend when I visited the Banner Hospice Dottie Kissinger Bereavement Camp. I was writing an article about the camp, where a group of about 30 strangers, 6 years and older, get together over a three-day weekend, in Payson, Arizona, to deal with the loss of loved ones. Led by grief counselors, music therapists and volunteers, the camp is held twice a year. Adults learn to express themselves about the loss of a loved one, while kids and young adults mainly learn to express their grief through activities such as music, painting and a hike to find geodes, those simple-looking rocks, that when split open reveal a surprise crystal-filled center.

As I took in the activities at the camp, a young boy immediately caught my eye. He was 6, right around my son’s age. He’d lost his mom to cancer.

My heart broke, remembering the 4-year-old boy, who, all those years ago, had almost whimpered: “Mom’s never going to come back, is she.” Or words to that effect.

My video production colleagues poignantly captured the experiences of families that participate in the bereavement camp, where the sole aim of the grief counselors is to help families figure out how to begin the process of healing. For themselves and those around them.

Read the article (Page 15) here to learn more about the camp through the eyes of one group of participants and watch the video above.

In life, everyone will experience loss – some more traumatic and unexpected than others. But it’s heartening to know there are support systems out there, including grief support groups, also run by Banner Hospice.

As David Rosh, the bereavement camp grief counselor, put it: the camp is not the answer to the heartache one feels, but it can be a “powerful healing experience.”

Photo credit: Vermillion Photo
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