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Guidelines for Pastoral Care Following September 11 Tragedy

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prepared by Fr. Dean Talagan

Listening and Caring in the Grieving Process

1. We call upon God Almighty for His Divine Grace in ceaseless prayer.

2. Our churches are open to people of all faiths, races and nationalities, especially at this time of great sorrow to our nation.

3. It is most important that our churches be open as listening and caring centers for those who have lost a loved one, or are shocked by the recent events in New York City and Washington, DC.

4. The following are general helpful suggestions for priests and church workers in helping others in the grieving process:

Caring Suggestions

1. Use of telephone: If you know of someone in need call and ask if you can visit and when. Also ask if you can help in any way. Be yourself. Show sympathy in a normal way. Quotes are not helpful.

2. Don’t say a lot: Taking one’s hand, a hug and a few words of caring and feeling are helpful. Cliches and easy answers don’t help much. A simple “I’m sorry”, communicates feelings and caring. The most important thing that you can do is to listen.

3. Don’t tell them how they feel: No one can know the feelings of a survivor. Often we hear people say, “I know how you feel”. The survivor does not need instruction. He/she needs love and understanding. It is not helpful to tell of your loss in this matter. The family has their hands full with their own grieving.

4. People respond differently to grieving and mournings: Just because someone is not crying or seems calm does not mean that they are not mourning. Each of us responds to situations differently. Don’t tell them not to cry. Crying is God’s cleansing and very important at a time like this. Even our Lord cried when told that Lazarus had died. Don’t cross-examine about the death. If they wish, they will provide you with the information. Listen, listen, listen.

5. Prayer: Let them know that you are praying, along with the entire Church for the loved one, the victims and the members of their families. Offer to prayer with them if they wish.

6. Decisions: Encourage them not to make major decisions until the grieving process has reached a different stage.

7. Grieving is a process: It takes time. Be understanding and supportive of the family’s efforts to cope with the loss. As Orthodox Christians, we have an understanding that this life is our temporary home. Our destination is the Kingdom of Heaven with our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. Our task is to make the journey through this life as favorable as possible, always walking with Him and trying to imitate His Life and Works in our daily lives as we care for and serve one another, in His Holy Name.

Grieving the Lost

Goals:

1. To increase the reality of the loss.

2. To help one deal with both expressed and latent affect (emotions).

3. To help one overcome various impediments to readjustment after the loss.

4. To encourage one to say an appropriate goodbye and feel comfortable reinvesting back into life.

5. And most importantly to feel the presence of God in this total process.

Grieving Takes Time:

1. Sleep may be difficult

2. Appetite changes

3. There is a lack of energy

4. There may be a shortness of breath

5. We experience a tightness in our throat and chest

6. And there is a sense of depersonalization

Tasks include:

1. To accept the reality of the loss and move on with life.

2. To work through the pain of grief is necessary.

3. To adjust to an environment in which loved ones are missing.

4. To stay focused on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the Physician of Souls and Bodies.

5. To regain interest in life, feel helpful, experience gratification again and adapt to new roles.

Mourning is Necessary

Mourning is adaptation to loss and involves four basic tasks:

Task 1: Involves accepting the reality of the loss (instead of denial) this takes time and calls for intellectual, emotional and spiritual acceptance. Funerals, memorials and praying help. Seeing the body also helps. In the case of the recent massive tragedy this may not be possible for many.

Task 2: Involves working through the pain of grief. It is necessary for the bereaved person to go through the pain of grief in order to get the grief work done. Anything that continually allows the person to avoid or suppress this pain can be expected to prolong the course of morning (e.g. not to feel).

Task 3: Involves adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing. It begins in the first three months. The Orthodox Church has a memorial service in 40 days, one year, three years, etc. Task three involves coming to terms with living without the loved one and facing in some cases an empty house or managing their finances and affairs along. There is often a lost sense of self, of the world and of direction in life. We, as Orthodox Christians, turn to our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. “What is impossible with humans, is possible with the Lord”. He “wipes away every tear”.

Task 4: Involves relocating the deceased and moving on with life. One never loses memory of this significant relationship. Memory is one of God’s choicest gifts to us and we go on living and working synergistically with our Lord.

Manifestations of Grief

Feelings:

1. Sadness

2. Anger

3. Guilt

4. Anxiety

5. Loneliness

6. Fatigue

7. Helplessness

8. Shock

9. Yearning

10. Emancipation

11. Relief

12. Numbness

Physical Sensations:

1. Hollowness in the stomach

2. Tightness in the chest

3. Tightness in the throat

4. Oversensitivity to noise

5. A sense of depersonalization (nothing seems real)

6. Shortness of breath

7. Weakness in the muscles

8. Lack of energy

9. Dry mouth

Cognitions (thoughts):

1. Disbelief

2. Confusion

3. Preoccupation

4. Sense of presence

5. Hallucinations

Behaviors:

1. Sleep disturbances

2. Appetite Disturbances

3. Absent-minded behavior

4. Social withdrawal

5. Dreams of the deceased

6. Avoiding reminders of the deceased

7. Searching and calling out

8. Sighing

9. Restless overactivity

10. Crying

11. Visiting places or carrying objects of the deceased

12. Treasuring objects that belonged to the deceased.

Helping a Child Grieve and Grow

Tell the truth:

1. Explain the physical effects of death in terms that the child can understand when asked.

  1. The dead do not breathe
  2. They feel nothing
  3. They cannot see or hear, move, speak or smile
  4. Their soul is separated from the body
  5. The body will rise again one day with the Lord
  6. Death is an inescapable part of life – we die as did our Lord, in order to be risen as He is risen from the dead.
  7. Be honest about your own feelings
  8. Understand the feelings of anger that a loved one has been take away, especially is such a tragic way.

2. It’s possible to have several feelings at one time.

3. God does not kill. This recent evil tragedy is a product of a world in rebellion against God.

4. Until children are quite sure a person is no more, and will not be around, they cannot finish the work of mourning. And if they cannot finish it, they cannot free themselves to go on with life, love, growing and believing in God.

5. Offer the child the reassuring words that no one knows the right words at a time like this.

6. Be aware of the child’s age and attention span when answering these questions. Answer only the question asked.

Be aware of the child’s unspoken feelings:

a. He/she may act our in play or misbehavior

b. Another may retreat in silence

c. Still a third may weep inconsolably one minute and act as if nothing has happened the next.

d. Help the child with the inner storm by encouraging him/her to talk about their feelings

e. Sadness is the obvious emotion to expect after a loss, but not only the one

f. Fear is very common

g. Children are totally dependent on the people who care for them and losing them is a great trauma

h. Assure them of your ongoing support

i. Healing may take years and your love is most important

j. They are often afraid to grieve in front of other children and suppress their feelings

k. They need to be allowed to express their feelings with someone who can help them sort through their memories with Agape Love (unconditional love) that our Lord teaches

l. Human life is fragile and precious

m. Each person is a unique human being created in the “Image and Likeness” of God by God

If a child speaks of suicide take them to a professional immediately. This is a spiritual and legal requirement. God bless you and you minister to God’s people!