For families, individual care can create a chasm between expert advice and practical application to family life. In the midst of loss, true collective care can be key to helping families grow and heal together.
What are spiritual care practices that can help families cope with the tragedy and trauma of death and loss together? What sorts of connected care practices are available?
First, it may be helpful to create goals for care. Here are 5 helpful goals that can guide the provision of family care in the midst of death and loss:
- Help the family make meaning of their loss.
- Create space for family communication, so that each family member can share his or her personal experience of loss and grief.
- Facilitate change in family dynamics – the loss of an individual, who is a part of a family system, means a change in the family system; this can create difficulty in adjustment.
- Assist the family as they move forward and adjust to a new way of being and living after loss.
- Empower the family to love in the midst of loss.
Prayer, forgiveness, reconciliation, storytelling, symbolic acts of charity, and the ritual of eating are tools that can help a family experiencing trauma transition into renewed experiences of connectedness, meaning, and wellness. Below, is a list of examples for provision of spiritual care for families:
Prayer is not merely an individual spiritual exercise. It can also be a corporate spiritual practice. Families can pray together, and in prayer, address their feelings of loss, sadness, anger, etc., hope for the future, and need for healing. As these feelings and needs are shared collectively, bonds are formed that can strengthen and empower the family.
Often, when an individual in a family dies, “unfinished business” may arise and be addressed with strong emotions. As a congregational care minister, you can help family members know how to share their strong emotions in ways that focus on the hurt and create space for empathy and shared grief. By focusing on the shared grief, families can be brought together and “unfinished business” can be processed, potentially leading to forgiveness and healing.
Encouraging families to share their emotions about death and loss has many benefits. First, it can increase the family’s awareness, at the individual and collective level, about mortality and finitude. As the family discusses these big ideas about what it means to be human, they are also more able to connect with one another. Second, collective sharing can create a sense of openness to the experiences of others – where one family member can take the perspective of another. Taking perspective can facilitate empathy and mutuality. Combined, reconciliation, in loss, can become possible.
Storytelling is done individually, where each family member shares their memories of the individual who has passed away. Collectively, each family member is able to share in the experience and through the story become more connected. As the feeling of connectedness increases, so does intimacy – and this is a bond that can facilitate family resilience and healing.
Asking family members to share what they remember about the individual who has passed can create an opportunity for an empowering ritual. For instance, you could encourage family members to discuss positive traits or practices of the deceased family member then suggest they adopt one of those traits or practices as a form of legacy.
The Ritual of Eating
Cooking and eating together is an activity that can (re)build and (re)establish family bonds. All family members can be involved preparing the food, setting the table, connecting during the meal, and helping to clean afterwards. At the table, opportunities for sharing and storytelling occur that can (re)build and (re)establish family bonds.
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