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Article about the value of funeral processions

By Libby

Dr. Wolfelt responds to a blog post which suggested the elimination of funeral processions. View his response here.

Dr. Wolfelt’s article has prompted others to reflect on the value of funeral processions as well. Here is one blog response.

Articles

Dr. Wolfelt Quoted in article on Life After Loss

By Libby

Dr. Wolfelt was quoted in the article “Life after Loss,” by Betsy Simnacher in the October 2014 edition of Live Happy magazine.

Articles

Why Rituals Help Us Mourn… and Heal

By Libby

circleLetters

This article was included in the recent edition of the T.A.P.S. Magazine. Click here to read the full article: Why Rituals Help Us Mourn… and Heal

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The Mourner’s Bill of Rights

By Libby

Mourner’s Bill of Rights PDF FileMBR

Articles

Dr. Wolfelt’s Recent Series in the Director Magazine

By Libby

Educating the Families You Serve About the WHY of the Funeral: A Guide for Funeral Home StaffPart 4 of 6 of Dr. Wolfelt’s “Teaching the WHY” article series was published in this months edition of The Director.

Click HERE to read Part 4: Each funeral ceremony element is important.

Click HERE to read Part 3: Explaining your role to families.

Click HERE to read Part 2: Helping families make transformations through choices, not decisions.

Click HERE to read Part 1: Educating the families you serve about the WHY of the funeral.

This series is excerpted from Dr. Wolfelt’s new workbook and training model entitled “Educating the Families You Serve About the WHY of the Funeral.” Visit our bookstore for more information about this remarkable resource.

Articles, Publications

Dr. Wolfelt’s Foreward to Death, Loss, and Grief in Literature for Youth

By Libby

Dr. Wolfelt recently wrote a foreword for a new resource titled Death, Loss, and Grief in Literature for Youth: A Selective Annotated Bibliography for K-12, compiled by Alice Crosetto and Rajinder Garcha, and published by Scarecrow Press, Inc. If you are looking for resources to help grieving youth, check out this excellent bibliography.

Foreword

Who among us hasn’t been touched—changed, even—by stories?

The power of story has held sway over humankind for millennia, for it is through narratives that we most deeply understand and empathize with others. Our brains are simply wired for story. Through a well-told tale, we are able to put ourselves in another’s shoes and feel his or her experience. And if that experience mirrors our own real-life story, we often not only see ourselves in the pages, we absorb, as if through some magical literary osmosis, the character’s lessons learned and transformations undergone.

Yes, we are changed by stories, both fiction and nonfiction. As I educate others about grief and mourning, I often talk about the concept of “perturbation.” You see, when people actively mourn, there is movement. In other words, their emotions are in motion. The term “perturbation” refers to the capacity to experience change and movement.

Stories move us. This includes, of course, grieving young people. To integrate grief, children must be touched by what they experience. When they cannot feel a feeling, they are unable to be changed by it, and instead of perturbation, they become “stuck.” And when stuck, children carry their grief rather than release it, sometimes into adulthood. Yet when children actively mourn, they open their hearts to love and the feelings of loss. This openness welcomes a transformation of living and loving.

Reading stories about loss, then, is a way for grieving children to actively mourn, which in turn leads to healing. Carefully selected books, specific to the unique situation and needs of a particular child, can help children with a variety of life difficulties.

In my experience with thousands of bereaved children, written words are less intrusive and demanding than spoken conversation. As with play, art, and music, children approach books with a minimum of defensive posturing. Obviously, I am an advocate of helping bereaved children through the use of literature and, because I believe books can help children heal, have authored several books myself for and about grieving young people that are annotated in chapter 10.

This wonderful bibliography includes hundreds of excellent books to read with or place in the hands of grieving children and teens. A number of questions need to be asked when you are considering a particular book for use with a particular bereaved child. How does the book present the material, language, text, illustrations, and so forth? What kind of message would the child get from the book? How are feelings dealt with in the book? Are the content and language in the book appropriate for the development level of this unique child? How does the book define death? Does this book represent a general humanistic approach to death or a particular religious point of view? This excellent resource will help you find and narrow down the choices for a bereaved child in your care. I suggest you then read the books on the short list yourself to choose the very best fit.

Thank you for companioning bereaved children. If you are reading this book, you are thoughtfully giving your time and attention in order to help a grieving child. I salute you, just as I salute Alice Crosetto and Rajinder Garcha for compiling this essential annotated bibliography.

 

Book Chapters, Uncategorized

Dr. Wolfelt Quoted in Pet Loss Article

By Libby

Follow the link to read the article: How to Deal with the Loss of a Pet, by K. Aleisha Fetters

Articles

How to Talk to the Children and Teens in Your Life About the Newtown, CT Tragedy

By Libby

How to Talk to the Children and Teens in Your Life

About the Newtown, CT Tragedy

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Once again we are faced with the traumatic, violent deaths of a group of innocent people, this time precious children in Newtown, Connecticut. I have been asked to provide some guidelines on how to communicate with children and teens about this tragedy. If you know of others who might benefit from this information, I invite you to forward this article to them.

First, it’s important to remember that children can cope with what they know, but they can’t cope with a reality they are over-protected from. As a father and as a counselor, I understand the instinct to want to protect children from such tragic news. But the reality is that many if not most of the children and teens in our lives (with the exception of the very youngest) have already heard about the recent school shooting from their peers, social media, or television. They have been exposed to the fact that 20 first-graders were shot by a stranger who barged into an elementary school. Many of them have also seen photos of the killer and of the children and teachers who were killed. Some may have read the horrific details of the massacre.

The point is, we cannot protect children from the tragedy, but we can let them teach us how they feel about it. As the caring adults in their lives, we have the responsibility to be available to them when they are struggling to understand what happened or if they have fears that the same thing could happen in their schools. We also have the responsibility to be honest with them within the boundaries of what is developmentally appropriate for a given child.

Listen (and observe), then respond

Watch the children in your life a little more closely this week and in the weeks to come. Notice if they are listening to news of the shooting, reading news online or in print, sharing stories that other kids have told them at school, or asking questions about the shooting. If it’s on their mind, or if you think it might be, then it’s your turn to ask a couple open-ended questions. “What have you heard about the school shooting that happened last week?” “Are the kids or teachers at your school talking about the kids who died in Connecticut?” You can also share your feelings: “I’ve been feeling sad about the children who were killed last week.”

Also watch for a change in behavior. Children who are more irritable or aggressive than usual or who are complaining of physical ailments uncharacteristically may essentially be telling you that they have absorbed some of the nation’s horror and anxiety about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.

When ignored, children and teens feel all alone in their grief. Respond to them with sensitivity and warmth. Use a caring tone of voice; maintain eye contact when talking with and learning from them. This commitment to actively listening tells children that their feelings will be respected.

Remember that often kids don’t want to have a long conversation about the tragedy. They don’t want to be “talked at.” But if they’re given the opportunity, many will tell you what’s on their mind, allowing you a glimpse into their reality. Respond based on what they tell you or show you through their behaviors. Use their words and level of understanding. Don’t over-explain. Keep it simple and honest and loving. Let them know you’re someone they can talk to about the tough things.

Also, some kids, especially younger ones, may truly not be concerned about the shooting because it seems like just another far-away story that doesn’t affect them. That’s why it’s important to listen and observe, then respond. Allow for a discussion but don’t insist on one if the child isn’t telling or showing you she’s sad, anxious or perplexed. Let the child lead.

Safety first

If a child is expressing, verbally or behaviorally, that she is afraid, reassure her that you and the other grown-ups in her life are doing everything you can to make sure that she is safe. Because it’s true, it’s OK to say, “This kind of thing almost never happens. It’s a one-in-a-million situation. You’re protected.”

Teens are ready to handle the more nuanced truth, which is that safety can’t be 100 percent guaranteed in anything we do in life. Model living each day with boldness, resilience, meaning, and purpose for the teens in your life.

Many kids will find it helpful to review school safety and security procedures, and indeed, this is happening at schools across the country as I write this. Physically show them the security measures in place and step through the drills.

In the home, if a child seems to be regressing to the behaviors of younger kids—such as wanting to sleep with mom and dad, bedwetting, thumb-sucking, etc., these are signs that this child simply needs some extra attention right now. Don’t punish him for the regressive behaviors. Indulge them for now. And spend extra time with him in the coming days and weeks. Be available when he gets up, when he comes home from school, after dinner, and on weekends as much as you can.

Be the grown-up

We as a nation have been traumatized by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. The multiple, violent deaths of precious young children and the adults who cared for them can result in intense feelings of shock, fear, anxiety and helplessness. Some of us confront these feelings by obsessively watching TV coverage of the event or talking about it with anyone and everyone.

While it’s normal and natural for us to try to integrate the reality of what happened in these ways, this kind of exposure may be too much for children. So limit your media viewing and conversation about the tragedy in front of your children. Younger kids, especially, don’t need to know and aren’t developmentally mature enough yet to handle all the details.

Be calm, reassuring, and positive. Be the caregiver. If you need to talk about your own thoughts and feelings about what happened, find another adult to talk to out of earshot of the kids. Never lie to children or hide the truth from them, but do limit their exposure.

Older kids, especially teens, may, like many adults, work through their thoughts and feelings by engaging with the national media and conversation about the shooting. Try watching the news together with these teens and talking about what you see. Be careful not to reverse roles. Don’t display your own grief so much that the child is forced to take care of you instead of the other way around. Seek outside support for yourself if you need it.

Search for meaning…together

As we all struggle to understand what can never be understood, we naturally turn to rituals and faith. If you attend a place of worship and there is a message about the shooting during the service, this may be helpful for your older child to hear. Model prayer, meditation, singing, spending time in nature or whichever activities are helpful to you in connecting to your spirituality. Attending a service or candle-lighting in memory of the children who died may be helpful for your family.

Participating in activities that connect us as humans can also be meaningful at this time. Children of all ages can participate in activities like making cards to send to the surviving children at Sandy Hook Elementary or supporting children in need in your own community through volunteer efforts like food or toy drives.

If a child wants to talk about where the children who died “went,” be honest with her about your beliefs and ask her about hers. Encourage this conversation without feeling you need to know all the answers.

Thank you for being an adult who is committed to helping children learn to navigate our challenging times and emerge as resilient, communicative, and compassionate adults themselves. The world needs more communicators and compassion-givers. Perhaps if we work on these learned skills together, one day we will have no more need of articles like this one.

About the Author
Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. A father of three, Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books for and about grieving children and teens, including Healing Your Grieving Heart for Kids, Healing A Child’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas for Families, Friends, and Caregivers, and Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about helping children in grief and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

Articles

Article Featuring Dr. Wolfelt on mysendoff.com

By Libby

Dr. Wolfelt: Listen to the Music of the Past, to Dance into the Future

mysendoff.com

 

“A well-planned funeral also helps you know ‘what to do’ when you do not know what to do.” – Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, from Understanding Your Grief

To listen to him speak, Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is soft-spoken. His words are precise. He doesn’t fumble or stutter or trip over his sentences. He tells anecdotes with precision and when he speaks about grief and mourning, he’s sincere, empathetic and adversely passionate… particularly when it comes to how our society, western culture, has slowly converted into a mourning-avoiding culture, a culture that attempts to think of death as optional. Funeral professionals recognize this as over the last two decades people have been steering away from traditional funeral services. Dr. Wolfelt recognizes this as people mask their feelings – condemning their emotions, pretending pain does not exist and disconnecting from their authentic transcendence in what he calls the cocooning phenomenon.

How does Dr. Wolfelt know this? Over the course of his career, he has grown to become one of the most prominent gurus of the funeral industry. His name has become synonymous with grief and mourning, and professionals of the funeral industry community have turned to his teachings… but not just funeral professionals. During his seminars, audience attendees range in age, in gender – men and women, young and old and many of them have experienced loss.

It’s understandable to see why he’s as influential as he is. He’s written best-selling books on the topic of grief and mourning. He’s taught training courses for bereavement caregivers at The Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he serves as Director, and he’s presented workshops across the world to grieving families, hospices, clergy, caregivers and funeral home staff, but it’s his firm passion in expelling the myths surrounding grief and mourning that have made him influential.

As Dr. Wolfelt said, “I write from my heart, not just my head. Grief is from the heart.”

The thing with Dr. Wolfelt – the thing that makes him such an influential advocate for grief and mourning is he understands the importance for it and the role funeral services play in helping the transcendence to healing. Like many, Dr. Wolfelt isn’t a stranger to death and the reciprocations a loss brings. At 14, his best friend died of leukaemia. The following year, his grandmothers passed away. By 16, the young man, who had plans to become an architect, wrote a mission statement to help those experiencing grief and mourning, and soon opened The Center for Loss and Life Transition.

As Dr. Wolfelt explains, grief and mourning have, for sometime now, become more and more suppressed. Unlike the times of Victorian era mourning, which saw elaborate rituals of commemoration for the dead as a customary norm, western mourning has become extrinsic – something Dr. Wolfelt points out when describing the significant amount of misconceptions surrounding these two emotional outsources.

Grief, as Dr. Wolfelt explained, is “an internal response to loss.” When a loved one dies, we are faced with grief, an emotional anguish that can take a physical, cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual toll on people. The problem is, society has taken on a cocooning phenomenon toward grief, in which we close ourselves off and repress our feelings.

“Feelings have one ambition,” Dr. Wolfelt said, “To be felt.”

And just as grieving is the internal response to loss, mourning is the outward, shared social response to loss. It is a means of making our emotions tangible, recognizable and meaningful, just as the funeral ritual plays a similar role in helping the transitional ease in expressing these feelings.

“The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved,” Dr. Wolfelt wrote in his 2003 book,Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart. “It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More important, the funeral is a way for you to mourn.”

“The ritual offers you an opportunity to remember the person who died and helps to affirm the value of the life that was lived.”

In fact, Dr. Wolfelt has even outlined a hierarchy of the purpose of funerals by identifying six important factors for the ritual that include: Transcendence, in which funerals help us embrace the wonder of life and death;Meaning, in which funerals mark the significance of the life that was lived, and further provides us with meaning and purpose in our continued living; Expression, in which funerals allow us to express our inner thoughts and feelings about life and death; Support, where upon funerals bring together a collective group who care for one another in a secure atmosphere that promotes love and support; Recall, where upon funerals encourage us to remember the person who died and share our unique memories of them with others; and Reality, in which funerals help us begin to truly acknowledge the reality that someone in our life has died.

However, over the last two decades, funeral services have been on a decline. There has been a cognitive dissonance – a kind of conflicting discomfort toward the funeral ritual and in turn, that of grief and mourning. Just as Aesop wrote of The Fox and the Grapes, in which the fox sees high hanging grapes and wishes to eat them, but is unable to reach them and decides the grapes aren’t worth eating, society has come to view funerals in much the same way. For some, it’s the belief that when we are dead, why would we need a funeral when we will not be there? For others, it could be that someone has died, we feel saddened by the loss, but they are gone, so we should move away from our sorrow.

The way that Dr. Wolfelt explains it, is that grief and mourning are about the capacity to experience change and movement; to reach the other side by going through, rather than around; by not avoiding but by understanding and accepting that grief and mourning are who you are and that it is not only acceptable but therapeutic to cry and to commemorate our loss through rituals.

As Dr. Wolfelt wrote, “Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.”

While there is an indisputable shift in the perceptions of funerals, Dr. Wolfelt wrote in Understanding Your Grief, “A meaningful funeral is really a good beginning, not, as you may have heard, closure or the end. You deserve a meaningful ceremony and so does the person who died.”

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is recognized across North America as an author, educator and grief counsellor, who is perhaps best known for his model ofcompanioning versus treating mourners. He is the founder and Director of theCenter for Loss and Life Transitionand for over the last three decades, has been presenting educational workshops annually for hospices, hospitals, schools, universities, funeral homes and community groups, and has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey ShowThe Larry King Live Show and the NBC Today Show, among others.

Articles

Feature Article in T.A.P.S. Fall Issue

By Libby

Dr. Wolfelt is a frequent contributor to the Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (T.A.P.S.) Magazine.

This Fall they published “The Importance of Seeking Support: Learning from the Geese.”

For more information about TAPS, please visit their website!

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