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Candle-light vigil at Golden Gardens Park. Photo by Susan Fried
By Lisa Loving | The Skanner News
Published: 07 August 2014

'Stop the Violence. Increase the Peace. Break the Silence,' was the message for the annual week-long Seattle Parks event to push back against youth violence in 2013. The week ended with a candle-light vigil at Golden Gardens Park. Photo by Susan Fried


While summertime and holidays are the best of times for many people, those who have lost a loved one can be hit by grief and isolated with their pain even while others are having fun around them.

Providence Health & Services grief specialist Anne Kister spoke with The Skanner News about their ongoing free-of-charge grief support programs – available in Oregon as well as Washington State -- and how the emotional pain from the death of someone close to you can be helped, if not cured.

The Skanner News: Talk about your work. What's the most important thing people should know about the presentations and support groups you offer?

Anne Kister: First of all that they are open to anybody in the community, and they're offered free of charge.

Sometimes I think, particularly with some communities, there can be a feeling of isolation with certain kinds of deaths that occur. So when people come into a presentation like this, one of the things I hear a lot is: Thank you, at least now I know I'm not going crazy. I hear people say wow, I'm not alone.

TSN: How does this program work?

AK: These types of presentations are geared more specifically to people who are actively grieving. We also have one that is geared towards getting through the holidays. About five years ago we began offering a presentation for people who are actively grieving, no matter what time of year it is.

I have a lot of churches I interact with as well as other community groups, letting them know when presentations are coming up. So because of that, I have people coming to my presentation with somebody who's already very ill or perhaps who's died in hospice. I've had people come who have had a suicide; I've had people come who've had a murder. I've had people come who had an accidental death that's very tragic, an unexpected loss.

So really it's all types of losses. Nobody is excluded from grieving.

TSN: I'm very curious about the “seven strategies of grieving.” Can you share them with us?

AK: First of all whenever somebody comes to my presentation, I let them know two things: I'm not an expert on their grief, because it's too unique. It is too individual for me to say, you know what this happen to you so these are the things I think you need to do.

At the same time the seven strategies that we offer really are about saying, this is what many people experience; this may be true for you. So we touch on all the different things that will determine people’s grief.

I can have 10 people in the room, all of whom may have had a husband who died, and each person has very individual experience of grief. Because of what determines their grief, who the person was to them, how old they were, how they died. What was their family heritage? What kind of previous losses have they had, that are unresolved? What other kind of stressors are going on in their lives?

We talk about grieving styles, because not everybody grieves in the same way. That's a big one for a lot of people. They often struggle because they're concerned about family members as well as their own grieving process. And so the light bulb goes on– oh we just have different ways of grieving.

We talk about how to support yourself, based on your style of grieving. We talked about ways to honor your loved one, how to take care of yourself. Also exploring how life is different now, because people often go through this sense of just being a totally different person, like their life may come apart — perhaps they're not sure how to put it together again.

And when they do find their way, their life might not to go together in the same way it was before, if you know what I mean.

TSN: It sounds really hard.

AK: I don't mean to say that the support they receive from being with others isn't part of it; my presentations are pretty much me talking through these strategies.

When people come, nothing is expected of them. I let them know that. So if they just want to sit and listen and take information and, that's all they have to do.

Every so often I end up with a group that really becomes very interactive, so they hear each other's stories. I tend to weave into my presentation a lot of what has been shared with me, generalized so that no one will know it's Suzy Smith, so to speak.

But I do weave in a lot of stories, and within that context people really identify with the stories I'm sharing. I don't want people to think that coming to the presentation means that they're going to have to share.

I will also say, though, I have resource information there so people can find out about the support groups, which are more based on sharing, but they can always go to a grief support group just to listen as well.

TSN: It seems that you have quite an array of grief support groups tailored to a number of different situations.

AK: Some of them might be for specific situations, so we do periodically what's called a Healing Widows group. Men in Grief is an ongoing group, and then Journey through Grief, which is a six week series where you meet with the same people. Occasionally we do a Young Widows group.

But our general grief support groups are drop-in, although we do ask people to contact us before their initial visit. Those are where you can go, sit, listen, or you can share, but they are really driven by the people who show up that day, even though we do have a couple of clinical staff there to help facilitate the process.

TSN: What is the most important thing people should know about the work you do around grieving?

AK: I think– that they're not alone. And we trust them to know what they are ready for. Nobody is going to be trying to force them to do anything. We just simply meet them where they're at, and provide whatever support they need.

TSN: Can grief make people physically sick? Do you see this program as potentially heading off physical illness?

AK: I definitely think that's true. I think that grief shows up physically for people as well as emotionally and cognitively and spiritually.

And depending on their situation -- if they have been a caregiver for several years or even intensively for a short period of time -- their own health issues can come up for that reason. I think that sometimes not only does grief manifest physically with health ailments.

But also what I've had people tell me, especially in the very, very difficult losses, come four or five years down the line it suddenly just bursts out, it's really ugly, they suddenly lose their job or they have a relationship breakup– because they just haven't known what to do with that grief.

For more information on Providence Health & Services grieving programs, go to www.oregon.providence.org or www.washington.providence.org.

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