By Norman Sklarewitz
From its very beginning 20 years ago, the Jewish Healing and Hospice Center of Los Angeles has offered bereavement care as one of its key services. Also known as grief counseling, such care over the years has become one of the Center’s most valuable and widely-used professional services.
The Jewish Healing and Hospice Center, Los Angeles, provides bereavement care to family members whose loved one has been in its hospice care. Such service is covered by Medicare. Individuals seeking bereavement care for loved ones not on hospice may receive service on a sliding scale fee basis.
Not surprisingly, the interpersonal restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic starting a year ago, have changed the way bereavement care counseling has been offered by the Center. One-on-one visits formerly offered by a counselor in an office setting have been replaced by telephone or Facetime “visits”. In addition, small bereavement groups have been formed to meet via Zoom.
Such changes have extended the reach of this service to out of state and even international clients facing a loss either COVID related or otherwise. The high death rate in metropolitan Los Angeles due to the Covid-19 has only increased the requests for help from grieving family members. Rabbi Howard, the Center’s founder and executive director, has seen the number of bereavement clients double and because many communities around the U.S. do not have local entities that provide such service, the JHCLA has received calls and extended its counseling to those seeking solace from around the U.S., from Europe and even Israel.
However, this increased need warrants a closer look at the service and who provides it. Says Rabbi Howard, “Just because a person is a member of the clergy or a social worker does not necessarily mean that their skill set involves the deeper understanding of the psycho/spiritual components that make up an individual’s response to loss.”
Too often the grieving person is provided with well-meaning but essentially useless, even counter-productive, platitudes. The family member may be told such things as, “Getting over your loss just takes time…” In trying to counsel a rather distraught and emotional surviving spouse, one young social worker suggested he get a jig saw puzzle to help deal with his grief. Clearly, that was hardly a useful suggestion.
Much is involved in assessing an individual’s need and then providing this service to a grieving family member. Experienced counselors such as Rabbi Howard and specially-trained, qualified JHCLA chaplains explain that there are actually many factors that go in to determining the best plan of care for an individual suffering a loss. Certain factors may lead to complex bereavement which requires a different approach to care.
For example, pre-existing psychiatric or psychological problems, drug or alcohol abuse, multiple previous deaths and traumatic/ violent deaths alter the path of healing.
Knowing how much time after the loss should pass before the bereavement counseling can commence is also part of assessment. Notes Rabbi Howard, “Bereavement studies indicate that the state of mind of the individual coping immediately with a close personal loss requires comforting rather than processing.
As a result, bereavement care may best begin only once a certain level of stability takes place. Then the patient can begin to process both common and complex loss issues. This may come as much as two or three months after the loss. That said, Rabbi Howard is quick to point out that she regularly interacts with the individual immediately after a loss, particularly if there is a danger of something as serious as self-harm.
Not widely recognized, but of importance, is the need to provide bereavement care to children and young adults who have lost a parent or sibling. It is such a relatively specialized service that Rabbi Howard will often refer patients in need to organizations such as Our House and others that specialize in child or adolescent care (www.ourhouse-grief.org)
The death of a parent, sibling or someone close can be devastating for children and teens of all ages, says Our House. “Children experience a range of intense emotions including sadness, anger, fear and guilt. They often feel isolated and unable to talk about the death with peers who have not had a similar experience. They also may be reluctant to share their grief with surviving family members for fear of upsetting them. Too often, children end up grieving alone.,” says Our House.
From her years of providing bereavement care, Rabbi Howards readily admits that “The experience of losing a loved one, expected or otherwise, shakes us to our core. But in that undoing,” she says,” lies the seeds of what our new self, without that person, will become. With the spiritual companionship that is available for this journey with a bereavement counselor, this process can be eased and become a journey of insight and renewed appreciation of life.”.
For more information or to make an appointment for bereavement care services with JHCLA, please call 310-277-1550 or contact Operations@jhcla.org.