When I first started as a counselor at The WARM Place over 20 years ago, I would often enter the living room to greet a new family and introduce them to The WARM Place. Some of the first words I would hear often were, “I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this place.” As a beginning grief counselor, I was already in awe of the power of the work being done at The WARM Place to transform the lives of grieving families. I had just started my work here and already I had something to live up to. But it didn’t seem a burden because I quickly realized that the reputation comes out of how things are done and never rests solely on the efforts of a single person. We bring grieving families together in group support. The magic of The WARM Place is that families can see themselves in each other. They begin to know that they are not alone and that they are experiencing the normal process of grieving the loss of a loved one. Sadness, anger, depression, confusion, fear, anxiety, helplessness, feeling different and feeling empty are just some of the feelings that can result from the death of a loved one. The staff and volunteers at The WARM Place help families to express these feelings outwardly, in safe surroundings, so that they can begin to heal. Families are changed as they mourn the loss of a loved one. They begin to live again.
But families are not the only ones who are transformed by their experience at The WARM Place. Those of us who work with grieving families are also changed. As helpful companions to grieving families, we walk by their side as they work through their pain. Inevitably, we are touched by those who tell us their stories and we are changed.
First we learn simply to be in the presence of a grieving person without shrinking back. When I first started working with moms who have had a child who died, I would visualize “strapping on my seat belt.” I was not going to run away from the unimaginable loss of a child. Theirs are the stories of the tragic loss of a child who died too soon. I try to understand the parts of their lives that have been profoundly changed because their child has died.
But theirs is also a love story—the story of a mother’s love for her child. When mothers share memories of their children, I am reminded of the precious gift that life is. Life is so fragile and finite, that I learn to value the things in my life that matter the most, to rejoice in the small things.
Many grieving persons miss the sound of their loved one’s voice. So I find myself verbalizing little things more, such as Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, and I love you.
We help our grieving families learn about self-care, and that is just as important for WARM Place staff and volunteers. I cannot be available to grieving families unless I practice healthy self-care. For me that includes exercise, meditation, music, and verbalizing my own feelings to someone who cares and understands.
Some people think that I keep my “professional distance” in order to remain a grief counselor. Really the opposite is true: I have learned to enter more fully into our clients’ lives, not to change or fix them but to serve as a gentle companion. Everyone at The WARM Place is on a journey, and it is one that can transform the staff and volunteers as deeply as grieving families themselves.
The truth is that we are all touched by loss and grief and it changes us. We learn to live more fully and love more deeply and to appreciate the preciousness of life.
-Kathy Telger, LPC-S