Valley Baptist Health System Continues to Offer Bereavement Support During Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

Jan 18, 2021

HARLINGEN & BROWNSVILLE – William Shakespeare’s keen observation of life is articulated his statement, “He, who lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend.”

True for both adults and children, the awareness of how to care for grief well is important to holistic health. When a person experiences significant loss of a person or something important, bereavement is the season they journey through, said Valley Baptist Health System Vice President Mission & Ministry Joe Perez.

“During this COVID-19 era, many people are journeying through the season of bereavement because they have experienced loss of a special someone. Some individuals and families have experienced multiple losses,” he said. “Others may be fortunate enough to not have lost a loved one, but the pandemic has created for all other kinds of losses, like daily routines, jobs, loss of relational contacts, normal resources for life, and many others.”

Grief is normal to the human condition, Perez said. But at the same time, one’s specific grief process is unique to each individual person. As a chaplain, Perez said he has learned that saying the phrase “I know what you’re going through” is not helpful when it comes to helping others cope with grief, because while situations of loss and grief may be similar, the consistency of relationships and circumstances are always different.

“One may think this is relating, but using this phrase does not invite the one suffering to disclose their thoughts and feelings because they are said to already be known. The result, then, is that the one grieving does not share his/her experience, which impedes the healing process by not allowing the bereaved to process their grief and grow in their ability to cope,” he said.

Perez said that while it can be difficult to help others cope with grief, there are ways to help.

“What can be more helpful is saying something like, ‘I have had a similar experience, but I know everybody’s different. How’s it going for you?’” he said. “If you have not had a similar experience, then simply ask, ‘How’s it going for you?’”

Perez said Dr. Alan Wolfelt, an influential educator on death and the grieving process, articulates the healing process through grief as, “Let’s remind ourselves of the importance between the terms grief and mourning. Grief is the internal thoughts and the feelings of loss and pain, whereas mourning is the outward, shared expression of that grief – or grief gone public. All bereaved families grieve when someone they love dies.  But if they are to heal, they must have a safe, accepting atmosphere in which they can mourn.”

“So, there's no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing one’s grief from the loss of a love one or the loss of something significant. At the same time, there are some essentials that help and obstacles that hinder the process to healing,” Perez said. “The best help, as Wolfelt’s quote states, is having a safe companion or community of persons to share life’s difficult experiences.”

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has been the isolation that can be experienced during necessary social distancing. While social distancing has put a hold on gatherings and in-person support groups, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront new methods of navigating the grieving process together.

“Keeping safe practices in mind, we need to remember that human beings are meant to be and relate to other human beings as a part of our holistic health. Therefore, we need to be more creative about how we can journey together through these difficult times.  Setting up family and/or friend’s phone or video chat times will assist in keeping our community as well,” Perez said. “Seeing each other stimulates more of our senses to work towards healing. Being in each other’s presence, as it can be done safely, is important as well.  Most importantly, if you find yourself isolated, reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or community member as one way to take initiative in your health.”

The Pastoral Services office at Valley Baptist Health System can offer assistance in seeking safe communities for holistic health through access to virtual support groups. For those working through the grieving process, Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s Pastoral Services Department continues to offers the following support resources that are free and open to the public:

  • Virtual Bereavement support groups at both Valley Baptist-Harlingen and Valley Baptist-Brownsville
  • Bereavement support for parents who have experienced pregnancy loss at Valley Baptist-Harlingen
  • Virtual Survivors of Suicide support group at Valley Baptist-Harlingen
  • Information about local RGV resources for Children's Bereavement can be found at this link: https://cbc-rgv.org/our-services.

During his time of serving as a spiritual caregiver, Perez said he has been able learn much about grief and the grieving process that he has used to help others, including:

  • Life is precious, and we never know when our time on earth will end. So, let us take great care of our relationships. Remember, when we are on our death bed, these relationships will be the most valuable thing that matters.
  • Dying is normal, and to be born is to have to die. Preparing for it is always better than not preparing.
  • Grief cannot be avoided in life, and learning how our whole person (body, mind, spirit) grieves is a great resource that will help us in facing the challenges and losses of life, along with helping us be more resilient through life.
  • Sadness deepens the heart, and avoiding the natural sadness of life will also lessen our joy.
  • Time does not heal grief (a great American myth). It is “proper attention over time” that leads to healthy coping through the journey of grief and season of bereavement. Mourning (sharing with trusted community) is the proper attention.
  • Looking for grief to get easier is not helpful. We must look to gain strength to carry the memories of our loved ones well. Sharing our experiences with community creates the shared journey to find strength and resilience through difficult times.
  • Holistic community breeds holistic health. One can initiate relationships to create safe community for more durable resources to navigate these difficult times.
  • Most unsolicited advice given to the grieving and dying is not helpful, and it usually comes from people who are uncomfortable with the emotions and experiences of the end-of-life experience.Instead of advice, simple ask “how’s it going?” and listen.The listening creates a safe environment for healing.
  • Many shy away from the sadness that comes from end-of-life experiences. When sadness comes, love usually shows up. This deep love endures and is resilient, creating something beautiful for those who can see.

For more information on the service of remembrance or any of the support groups listed, call the Valley Baptist Pastoral Services Department at (956) 389-1194 or email pastoralservices@valleybaptist.net.

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