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Grief support can take different forms

Creating art, writing in a journal, talking with others among ways people can get help

Series: Redefining Aging | Story 17

Last updated 3/11/2020 at 4:01pm | View PDF

Jim Slonoff

Laura Cottrell, director of bereavement programs at Amita St. Thomas Hospice in Hinsdale, is surrounding by some of the artwork created by children who attend support groups there. Art therapy can be equally effective with adults, helping them to unlock feelings they can't quite put into words.

Sometimes the pain of loss is too difficult to express in words.

So Laura Cottrell, bereavement director at Amita St. Thomas Hospice, might ask participants in a grief support group to use a hammer to shatter a bowl.

"Then they put it back together. The bowl is never the way it was before," she said. "It is held together, but there are holes in it and there are pieces missing.

"The creativity gives them an outlet for emotions they might not know how to talk about or what to say," she added. "It gives them a place to put how they feel where they otherwise might not know exactly how they feel."

Cottrell also encourages participants to write in a journal. One of her favorite assignments is to have participants describe the person they lost - using only six words.

"(It) is really, really difficult and really gets them thinking," she said.

Hands-on therapy can help people open up and think about the grief that they otherwise struggle to put into words. The focus is never on the artistic merit of the finished product, Cottrell emphasized, but on giving participants an opportunity to release their feelings.

"It's always about the process that you go through as you do it," she said. "When you don't let them out and you hold them in, they are going to come out somehow and they are going to come out sometime."

Headaches, stomachaches, bouts of feeling short-tempered and other symptoms can be the result of bottling up feelings. She said the simple analogy she uses with kids about coping with grief applies to adults as well.

"Your body is a pop can. When pop cans don't open, they get bubbles in them and they explode. At some point, that can explodes and it's a big old mess."

The support groups offered by Amita St. Thomas Hospice give participants who are ready to put their feelings in words the opportunity to share them in a safe environment.

"I wish that people would know that support is out there and while it's not for everyone, it is for some people and it really does help them," she said. "It's nice to know you're not alone. It's nice to know you can talk to other people, you can share with other people and you don't have to do it alone. It can be very lonely."

She emphasized the grief groups do not provide therapy, the goal of which is to help a person address a situation.

"Grief is not something you can fix," she said. "Grief is something you go through, so we are here to support you."

Many adults ask Cottrell when they will start to feel better. She said that's a question she can't answer.

"Five years from now you might hear a song and it might be a re-triggering," she said. "You'll learn ways to help yourself when you're feeling that. You'll find ways to take care of yourself when you need to."

Grief can be especially difficult for aging adults who have spent most of their life with a spouse who is no longer there.

"When you have been with someone for 50 years, how do you start your day again?" she said.

One of the suggestions she makes is for people to keep talking about their loved one.

"You keep that person in your conversation. You always make sure they are still in your conversation," she said.

Grief ultimately is an indication of love, Cottrell noted.

"You cry because you loved someone, and you're so fortunate you loved someone so much," she said.

Cottrell said she has been amazed at how much support groups have helped participants.

"Before I came here, I never realized all the grief support that was out there, and I'm constantly amazed that there are so many people that can come to this, how it can change you, how it can support you," she said. "I wish everybody knew about it, from young to old."

Author Bio

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 630-323-4422, ext. 104


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