Grief Book Aids Sept. 11 Counselors
When death comes, the bereaved don't necessarily know how to honor the departed. This holds particularly true when the person who has died belonged to no specific faith community, or leaves few survivors, or has moved far from other family members.
Sarah York, a Unitarian Universalist minister, wrote ``Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death” (2000) as a resource for people who want to do something meaningful to express sorrow and memorialize loved ones, but don't know how.
So she was gratified when her publisher, Jossey-Bass Inc., of San Francisco, in October donated 600 copies of ``Remembering Well” to American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services in New York City, to be given to grief counselors working there after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Jossey-Bass initiated the gift out of sympathy and concern, said Sheryl Fullerton, executive editor for the house's Religion in Practice imprint. The publisher also gave 100 copies of Carol Noren's ``In Times of Crisis and Sorrow” to the Red Cross for chaplains helping emergency and disaster crews after the attacks.
York, who lives in the western North Carlina town of Fairview, wrote a letter to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani offering suggestions for honoring victims of the attacks. She said she received an acknowledgement from Giuliani's office, and thought some of her ideas may have been used. ``I hope there was some influence there. And I hope some of those books find their way to people who really need them.”
John Weaver, the volunteer who previewed and recommended the books for the Red Cross, said York's book was perfect for mental health workers. ``I just think it's a marvelous resource for people who are interested in helping people grieve,” said Weaver, author of ``Disaster: Mental Health Intervention” (Professional Resource Press).
``The important thing for people when they're suffering a loss is to express their grief and find ways to do that,” he said. Weaver said he found in York's book a liturgy that already had been used in services following the crash of Flight 93 in western Pennsylvania. He said he was glad to learn the source of the liturgy, which ``Remembering Well” attributes to Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, who was a chaplain on Iwo Jima and wrote several books.
York says ``Remembering Well” was inspired in part by her own grief experiences after the deaths of her mother, father and brother within a three-year period in the mid-1980s and the suicide later of her 28-year-old stepson and she wrote it after noticing several common scenarios.
Many people, even in her congregation, were having no services at all -- possibly because they were at a loss for what to do. She also knew of some people not associated with a religious group seeking out a cleric or religious group for help with a funeral.
``For whatever reason they've become alienated from their religious tradition, but they still want something that feels spiritual,” York says.
Personalized funerals are growing in popularity, York notes. And, in cases of cremation, survivors have more time to plan memorials.
York says the purpose of rituals is to express feelings rather than suppress them. For instance, she says when survivors hold a cremation and a memorial service but no service to commit the remains, it distances them from their own grief.
``Remembering Well” includes examples of rituals following murder, suicide, or other violent deaths which damaged the body of a loved one. York also discusses death in cases of family tensions and estrangements. ``With the death of a relative, something has died in you, too. You are reminded of the failures as well as the gifts of relationship,” she writes. ``There is potential for connecting, truth telling, and reconciling.”
The author shows that mourning does not end with the funeral. ``I wanted to give people ideas for how they can do rituals for remembrance for the seasons after the death,” York says.
In addition to giving workshops on ``Remembering Well” for clergy and others who work with the grieving, York is currently working on ``The Holy Intimacy of Strangers,” which she expects to be published in September. That book considers how encounters with strangers can seem to be touched with something holy and reveal to us how we live in relationship with everybody. Strangers, York says, can help teach us who we are.
``They, I think, reveal to us the gift of intimacy that is human being to human being and the trust among human beings that I think is our hope for human community and peace,” she says.