Saturday, March 13, 2010

Complicated Mourning conference

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ft. Collins, CO at the beginning of the month. Alan Wolfelt was exceptional, as always. "Understanding and Responding to Complicated Mourning" exceeded my expectations- so much good information to process! The training was not held at The Center for Loss and Life Transition this time. I had so been looking forward to the peaceful retreat but there is some construction going on in the area so we met at a conference center instead. When Kerri emailed about the change in location, I pictured some cavernous room that would not be conducive to learning, at least not in line with Alan's vision for these trainings. However, we were in a small room, complete with an eating area. It may not have been the Center for Loss but it worked well for our group. It turns out that it's the people that make the training, not the location! Alan keeps the trainings small so there were 16 of us, including a woman who was at the Comprehensive Bereavement training I attended last May. Such a variety of backgrounds! I think I was the only social worker- there were hospice volunteers, chaplains, bereavement coordinators, and even a nurse. And there was even someone my age this time! I'm so used to being the "young'un" wherever I go. There's such a sense of intimacy in these groups because of what we do but also the stories we share. Alan creates a safe place for us to share not only our personal losses but also the teaching moments with the clients we serve.

Some take-aways from the training itself:
Alan uses the term "Complicated" instead of Abnormal, Pathological, Atypical, or Unresolved when it comes to grief. Complicated is a hope-based term, whereas the others indicate something gravely wrong and unlikely to change. Grief, as a reminder, is an internal process and by it's very nature is complicated. Mourning is an external process, or "grief gone public," and influences change and movement. If someone is unable to mourn a loss, for whatever reason, their grief often becomes complicated.

The factors that naturally influence complicated mourning are the circumstances of the death, survivor's psychological traits (i.e. personality), survivor's relationship with the person that died, survivor's inability to express feelings (grieve but don't mourn), and family systems issues.

There are 4 categories of complicated mourning. In Absent Mourning, no apparent feelings of grief are expressed, often resulting in emotional, physical, and spiritual turmoil. In Distorted Mourning, a heightened response occurs in one of the normal dimensions of grief and does not soften over time. Anger, guilt, depression, and anxiety are the most common. With Converted Mourning, the person attempts to go around grief, instead of through it. The person may demonstrate behaviors and symptoms resulting in personal distress but are unable to trace their presence to the loss, based on whatever "avoidance response style" they are using. This may be due to our mourning-avoidant culture, a high need for self-control, lack of long-term support, or an intolerance for pain or feelings of helplessness. Hurting is part of healing; if this is suppressed, absent mourning occurs. In Chronic Mourning, the acute symptoms of grief do not change over time and there are conscious or unconscious efforts to keep the dead person alive. This is often inappropriately applied to people- some denial can be normal and healthy when a loss occurs. We tend to dose ourselves while mourning a loss- a little bit of pain here and there as integrate the loss in to our lives.

Dying to learn more? Go to a training for yourself! Alan and his staff seriously pamper everyone who comes to a training. It truly is a nice getaway, combined with an excellent educational experience. Sadly, Alan may not continue these trainings past this year so it's best to sign up for the trainings left in 2010. Go to the Center for Loss website to see the training schedule and find out if any spots are left. I'd love to go to a couple more trainings but I'm not sure I'll have time or money to get back before the year ends. Personally, I'm praying that Alan will figure out a way to continue doing this one way or another. If you can't go, then at least check out Alan's many, many books- a virtual treasure trove of information. I was particularly impressed with one of his latest: Healing Your Grieving Body: 100 Physical Practices for Mourners. It's filled with soothing tips.

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