Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"The Standard of Care Is the Provider of Care"

When I write about what it takes to be an effective grief care provider I come back again and again to the above statement. When I train people to be grief counselors I view this as covering three tracks.
(1) Who am I as a person who has had losses and has grieved them and knows that somewhere inside there still is material which can be brought to the surface by external cues and signals -- words, sounds, sights, smells, and touch. These are my "Cowbells" and they are vulnerable to recall into my conscious awareness at anytime and drown out whoever I am speaking with. Therefore, I must develop a keen sense of this material and engage in some processing in order to limit their sudden surging into the space between myself and clients.

I have found that strong knowledge of what grief is and the range of behaviors we can expect from grieving people, as well as a good repertoire of intervention skills to be absolutely necessary but must be accompanied by a clarity of my own countertransference material associated with grief. The knowledge and skills will be partially or not used at all when the "Cowbells" ring and limit my availability. The standard of care truly is the provider of that care.
(2) What to expect from grieving people is a critical part of the training. Here we give the trainees not only the origin and functions of human grief but also the typical and atypical variations of grieving behaviors.
(3) How to help grieving people is the other area of focus. There are several ways to organize the learning of intervention skills. Many students and trainees want to go here first without a grounding in why and how we grieve and why it is more comfortable for them to work with the death of an older person versus a young mother or . . . a child!

We will talk more about the complexities and dynamics of human grief -- its variations and changing nature --  in our next blog.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


“Cowbells” ring – Are you listening?"

     "Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child." Sometimes I really do! There are still resurging memories and thoughts and accompanying feelings that return me to griefpain and ... "sometimes I do feel like a motherless child." Grieving for me continues to be a lifelong process and after almost 33 years of helping grieving people, I know that the revisiting of loss and grief is as much a reality for them as it is for me. Normal, unresolved leftovers of the unfinished business of past loss and grief is stored in a space just out of conscious awareness and can be triggered into consciousness by external cues. This can happen when you or I are with a grieving person and can limit our availability to that individual,

The way unfinished business is stored and its subsequent effects on a helping person's own grief experience is illustrated by the following personal "Cowbells" story.*
When I was 4 years old, I attended a preschool program in a community center just across the street from the apartment building where my family lived. After some indoor games, we were sent outside to the playground. This was an area with a chain link fence separating us from the sidewalk and the street beyond. I could see our apartment building across the street and as soon as we got outside, I would run directly to the fence, stick my little fingers and nose through the fence, and look longingly, yearningly toward my home. The image of my “Mommy” was clearly in my mind, and I missed her and ached to be back with her.
At that same time every day, a junkman with a pushcart filled with old clothes and items he had been collecting, came by ringing a cowbell roped to the handlebar of the cart in order to announce his presence in the neighborhood. The sound of that cowbell and my yearning, grieving feelings became connected.
   Throughout my life when I have had aching, grieving feelings come up, the look on my face prompts my wife to ask, "Cowbells?" And I answer—“Cowbells.”
 Throughout the years, a symphony of Cowbells has rung out; and . . . every one of us has our own Cowbells.
They accompany us to every interaction with  friends and family, counseling or pastoral clients, parishioners, into staff meetings, treatment planning, and ... to every human contact we engage in. Anyone who steps up to help a grieving person can be more helpful, more available, when we are aware of our own Cowbells. We do not want our  own Cowbells to drown out the people we're helping!—ask not for whom the Cowbells toll; they toll for thee and me!
*Excerpt from: Jeffreys (2011). Helping Grieving People. (See also: Katz & Johnson (2006). When Professionals Weep. New York: Routledge.)
I am currently on deadline for a chapter I am writing on "Family Centered Approach to Helping Grieving Older Adults" – for a volume to be published next year.  A future blog will tell you about their special needs and how to help them cope with loss and change.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Meet the Author - Dr. Shep Jeffreys, Grief Psychologist and author of Helping Grieving People–When Tears Are Not Enough

Everyone is invited to a program on Helping Grieving People: July 23, 7- 8:30 pm – Howard County Library, Central Branch. "Dr. Shep Jeffreys, Grief Psychologist and author of Helping Grieving People–When Tears Are Not Enough, will share how we can help others – and ourselves – when we learn what to expect and how to regulate grief as we reclaim a functional life."

To register:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Grief Happens

On this Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, it seems a fitting time to begin my GriefCorner blog and to post a poem I wrote on an earlier Memorial Day while attending ceremonies at The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. [As the ceremony ended, our attention was directed to the bugler ...]
Taps At The Wall: A Ritual

Taps at The Wall
It tears into our hearts
And brings us into the memory.

I see men and women in various uniforms
With hands saluting the black granite tribute.
Gnarled, arthritic hands
And blotchy, wrinkled hands,
And young, sinewy hands,

Saluting the thousands who are not physically here.
But maybe, as I hear the final notes
Of that bugler’s Taps,

I feel the Thousands from The Wall . . .

Saluting back.
© J. Shep Jeffreys, 2002

From Helping Grieving People –When Tears Are Not Enough: A Handbook for Care Providers.

Copyright 2012 Photobucket Corporation. All rights reserved.

Sooner or later life taps us on the shoulder and we
find ourselves facing loss and grief or have a loved
one who is in pain from a loss. My wish is to
enable as many of us as possible to be able to turn
towards the suffering while most others are
running the other way. Grieving people need our

To ensure the highest level of service, we will introduce in a forthcoming blog the concept of the Exquisite Witness grief-care provider. Such an individual is aware of and manages his or her own grief material, has a grasp of what to expect of typical grief, and has a sense of what to say and not say.

The person who turns towards the suffering and steps up to help another who is grieving a loss (or the threat of loss) may be a health or pastoral care professional, an educator, a trained hospice or other institutional volunteer, a faith-based bereavement support person, a dedicated family or friend caregiver or even the grieving individuals themselves. Many more details of this explanation are contained in my book, Helping Grieving People –When Tears Are Not Enough. We will discuss this more fully in a future blog.

The other day I heard a man in a TV sitcom say that he was grieving the end of a relationship and his friend jumped in with, "surely you must be in the 'acceptance stage' by now." He was referring to the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages published in 1969 in her book, On Death and Dying.

Since 1969, new research information and scholarly writings have appeared which have added an array of explanations as to why and how we grieve loss - or the threat of loss. We will broach these later theories and explanations and how they can be useful to those helping a grieving person in a later blog.

I will also tell you how it all began for me with my first Life, Death and Transition workshop with Elisabeth in 1981; and the start of my own healing and a lifetime devoted to helping grieving people.