Becoming a More Affective Aftercare Provider
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Central Institute for Educational Advancement
Online Continuing Education for Funeral Directors

Defining Aftercare

Defining truly effective aftercare may be one of the most difficult tasks of the next decade in funeral service. Because most people go through the grieving process in such a wide variety of ways and expressions, and even some resist grief and bereavement with all of their being, to pin down a truly effective care pattern for those in mourning and grief could be a little bit presumptuous.
It wasnt until the late 1980s that the word aftercare became a household term around funeral homes. The common process of funeral service was to assist a family with the facilitation and coordination of the funeral details and then leave the cemetery or return the cremains to the family.
The idea of providing care, comfort and encouragement after the funeral process was complete was virtually unheard of, and was not even a concept that was discussed in mortuary science colleges prior to the late 1970s. During the 1980s funeral supply publishing houses started printing and promoting pamphlets and leaflets to be distributed at funeral homes which gave some watered down suggestions and facts on how to cope with and live through grief and bereavement.
Slowly a new breed of funeral directors started to emerge onto the macro picture of funeral service. Many of them were previously educated in postgraduate schools or seminaries. Some were licensed counselors or licensed social workers. Some of them were ordained ministers or well studied practicing funeral directors. They started a trend, which was initially birthed in the higher volume funeral homes that could fit it in the budget. The terms aftercare or post funeral care were finally coined into existence.
It was a process of attention and care to the family of the deceased after the funeral. Not only did it provided valuable information about living with and through grief, but also issued comfort and encouraging suggestions and sound advice that would help the grieving and mourning family cope during the first few days and weeks after the formal memorialization process was complete.
Now this form of care giving is no longer confined to the larger high volume firms. In many areas, there are actually independent contractors offering their services to many of the mid size and smaller funeral homes that see the importance of this type of care for the families they serve.
That is the reason this certificate course was designed. To help the typical funeral director practice an effective and practical form of post funeral follow up and aftercare with the families they serve. True care and concern incorporates much more than positive and encouraging statements made to the family as they are getting into the family limousine at the close of the graveside service. Learning how to not only define but also become an effective aftercare provider will not only enhance your firms public persona, but it will also improve you as an individual, because you will be better equipped to deal with those making the natural journey of grief.

When Does Aftercare Begin?

Realistically speaking, effective aftercare or post funeral care begins in the arrangements conference room, when the entire family is gathered together to make the at-need funeral arrangements for their deceased loved one. However, it may be informally promoted prior to this event in advertising and prearranging promotions.
In the arrangements session, it primarily takes one of two formats of initiation. The first format is called Initial Program Promotion. This is a very easy way to make the family aware that a professionally trained aftercare specialist is available to them after the memorialization process is complete. This may be accomplished by either making verbal statements to this effect or combining those statements with the presentation of a pamphlet or brochure outlining the process and benefits available to the client family. This same pamphlet may also personally introduce the care giver by name and face, if so desired.
The second format is called Initial Aftercare Foundations. This format is the practical issuance of preliminary helpful statements and suggestions. Some of these helpful foundational remarks may sound something like this:

After the funeral is over, you (referring to the principal surviving family member) may want to have someone close and available to you, that can help you with the procurement of the financial details surrounding your loved ones estate.

Professionals, who are knowledgeable about grief and bereavement, tell us that it is not wise to make hasty or radical decisions regarding your lifestyle for several weeks or months after the memorialization process.

Sharing those life memories of your loved one with other friends and family members after the funeral is over will not only help you deal with your grief a little better, but it will also help them.

The experienced and discerning funeral director may find that it is possible to effectively combine both of these formats of aftercare initiation in the arrangements conference room. This is done by not only issuing appropriate foundational statements like those previously mentioned, but also by simultaneously introducing the firms designated aftercare provisions and providers.
Another time during the at-need funeral process that post funeral care can be introduced effectively, is during the viewing or visitation. Have the aftercare provider present at the visitation. Have that provider occasionally check in on key family members (widow, widower, children or grandchildren). This act starts to build a relationship which shows compassion and a genuine care for the emotionally and spiritual health of the mourning family.
In conjunction with this process, a brief post visitation conference between the aftercare provider and the family of the deceased may prove to be a very good passive introduction of the funeral homes aftercare program. This session could include a brief verbal rehearsal of the upcoming funeral service and committal, an encapsulated review, identifying the key people who they (the family of the deceased) have just greeted during the visitation. This session may also include a brief time for family members to express their feelings about what they have just experienced (the visitation) and if the aftercare provider is so inclined and / or experienced, it may include a closing time of prayer and or meditation, verbal or silent.
Most funeral homes hide the charges to provide aftercare services within their professional service fees. However, if a funeral home is going to itemize or charge separately for any specific or general aftercare services, it is important to be very clear about such charges, and make sure that a family sees such identifiable fees and
descriptions of such services on your general price lists.

Knowing The Needy

Generally speaking

Its kind of like a doctor that prescribes medication over the phone without ever seeing or talking to the patient in person. You can be more effective as an aftercare provider, if you can get to know the person you are caring for better. This isnt just a matter of chronology, meaning you have known the person all your life or for several years. This is not necessarily a diagnosis of the persons psyche or mentality, but sometimes just knowing a series of simple facts about the person being helped will help you know the more effective approach and angle of support and care to give.
Being a good listener is one of the best ways to produce useful information that can help you know better how to care for the person or family in grief. Many people are willing tell you how they feel about certain family relationships, or how money and finances should be handled, or even about their views on politics and government. But you really know them better when you are able to get them to communicate parts of their personal history to you. You may never get a complete autobiography from them. And that really isnt necessary. But many times just a simple story or two from their life experiences will help you see who and what you could be dealing with and how their history affects the way they now grieve and mourn.
Personal concerns and blatant attitudes may give you some insight of the basic values and morals of the person(s) you are caring for. Decayed morals and a lack of family values may be one of many reasons why someone is unable to develop a healthy attitude towards their own grief.
During the aftercare process, some people may want to communicate information to you that they want you to hold in confidence. The choice is really up to you whether or not you even want to hear any such information. If there is a warning that such information is about to be rendered, you may want to very politely tell them that you would rather not have them share such information with you, especially if you sense that it could be slanderous in nature or irrelevant to their own grieving process. Most of the time, such a refusal to participate in a conversation of that nature will cause you to be respected by the person requesting your confidentiality. The key to maintaining a healthy relationship with the family in grief through one of these situations is your ability to be polite and courteous. The obvious attitude of the person wishing to communicate to you may determine your willingness to listen to something spoken in confidence.
If you choose to receive a conversation in confidence, than by all means keep it in the realms of strict confidentiality. There is no rank and order. You are not required to take everything you hear to your supervisor, the owner of the funeral home, another family member or a close friend. There is only one exception that you should willingly, without question break confidence in, and that would be in the case of information that would undeniably save someone elses mortal life or protect them from proven physical danger or injury.

You may even want to keep a journal, recording your mental notes that you have taken during past aftercare experiences with certain people. You should never take notes or write things in your journal while actually in the presence of someone you are working in an aftercare situation with. Journaling is a practice that you may want to do on your own time, especially if you are involved in more than one aftercare situation at a time. The last thing you want to do is confuse facts and details between two or three different family situations. Writing all this down may help you organize your thoughts and facts in each situation. You will notice similarities and patterns in your perceptions and care begin to emerge as you periodically review your journal. This process begins to lay a foundation in the styles and boundaries of the care you are personally able to provide.
Be very careful about journaling confidential information. If you use a computer or notebook that can be easily accessed by anyone at all, it would be best not to record in writing such information. Use common sense and adequate precaution in any matter of confidence.

On an individual basis

Then there is the aspect of personality. Everyone has a personality. For the sake of keeping it very basic we are going to look at the various mentalities that make up a persons basic nature and personality. Other writers on the subject will use different terms and may make it much more complex than we will in this course. The idea here is not to make you a para psychologist or a para psychiatrist, but rather to just equip you to the obvious basic facts about how people think and react. As we examine these mentalities you may want to see how you fit into the various mentalities. Being aware of who you are and how you are constructed mentally can make you more effective in various aftercare situations.
There are four basic mentalities involved in everyones personality. Everybody has a little of each mentality in their personality constitution. However, in almost all people, one stands out as the primary mentality. It is the rare individual that shares two mentalities as a primary pair. Depending on which two mentalities have been combined, this can be fundamentally very complex and maybe even troublesome. There is no concrete proof as to the origin of these mentalities in our makeup. Some claim that they are genetic and others say that they are the result of influences at a very early age. Others say a combination of the two. Needless to say, when we know what they are and how to identify them, we usually find communication improves in the aftercare situation. These mentalities need not be verbally identified verbally in an actual aftercare situation. Identifying them to yourself will only help guide you as an aftercare provider in your specific care and communication for the individual or family group you are involved with.
The first mentality we will call the analyst. The analyst is the thinker part of the four. Every bit of information must be broken down to its core elements and examined. Analysts make great model builders and repair people. They often like to teach complex laborious subjects to others and are very critical shoppers. Analysts need to know. Information and facts are sometimes so unnecessarily needed that these analysts sometimes become compulsive in their efforts to obtain them. Although there is sometimes a timidity that is found in analysts they tend to be fairly compatible.
The second mentality I like to call the driver. Others may refer to this mentality as the worker or the worker bee. These people are very goal oriented task driven people who bask in the sense of completion. They make excellent procurement officers and are great with hands on projects. Most are workaholics. They allow very little to get in their way. They are not easily offended and at times appear to be void of feelings. At times, they can be direct and to the point almost in a very blunt manner. They tend to be lone rangers except for keeping the company of those around them that they know they need to get the job done.
The third mentality is commonly called the feeler. This type is also called sensors by some. Feelers are very sensitive people who can experience intense emotions frequently. They understand others positions and emotions unusually well and display a high amount of charisma. These very likeable people tend to display excellent gifts in the fine arts and make excellent actors. Most, but not all, have strong tendencies to take liberal positions on social and political issues.
The fourth mentality I call the theorist. Some call these people dreamers or idealists. These folks are always full of ideas and tend to be very entrepreneurial in their thinking. They can easily motivate people and make excellent inventors, speakers and philosophers. While they may come across very pleasant, they have a hard time staying a long time in any one situation or circumstance. They are rarely discouraged and enjoy life experientially. They are very creative, yet sometimes lack patience and endurance.
In summary a good way to remember them is like this. The theorist says to the Analyst, Feeler and Driver, I believe we can live on the planet Neptune. The Analyst says, Yes we can, and here is precisely how well do it! He goes on to rehearse a long and tedious list of necessary requirements and procedures. Then the Feeler chimes in, Oh wont that just be the neatest thing to live on Neptune wow! About this time the Driver has had enough. He interrupts the Feelers emotional enthusiastic outpour and says very strongly, Will you all just shut up and get to work so we can finally live on Neptune!
Any of these four mentalities when seen in the primary position of someones personality can be good and beneficial. All types are needed to balance the activities of human society. That is why God made us with these mentalities. The elimination of any one of these would be catastrophic to the society as a whole. In the same way we must not exclude any of these people with these primary mentalities from our lives. Even though sometimes we may not understand the reason or purpose for their way of thinking or their viewpoint, we must understand that they are that way for a purpose, and that they still need our care, compassion and encouragement.
There are some obvious contentions in the mix of these mentalities. Knowing and understanding this can help you be able to relate better in caring situations. Drivers tend to ignore feelers. Theorists and feelers may feed off of each other. Feelers tend to think drivers are mean and insensitive. Analysts tend to be confused by the intensity that some feelers show. And on and on.
Discerning how people are stacked, mentality wise, will help you know them better. We all contain a portion of these four basic mentalities in our make up. For instance, I am primarily a driver, second of all I am a theorist, and in a close tie for third I am both an analyst and a feeler. My wife on the other hand is primarily an analyst. Secondly, a feeler, thirdly a driver, and fourthly a theorist. We work pretty well together because I need her analytical ability to help me get the job done and she needs the driver in me to keep her going from time to time. Her ability to feel the emotions and pathos in some situations balances my ever present oh, just grow up and get on with it attitude. Obviously, the opposite dynamics could very well play into serious problems in someones life.

The group dynamics.

If you are sitting down to share and care with and for more than one person at a time in a typical aftercare situation, it is very important to understand the dynamics and relationships within the family grouping you are dealing with. Sometimes these positions within the family setting are blatantly obvious and other times some basic verbal and non-verbal probes will quickly reveal the position or role of certain family members. If you are willing to identify these people only to yourself, it will help you coordinate a much more effective aftercare plan for that family.
The first such person in a family group setting is the dominant authoritarian (the DA). The dominant authoritarian has the final word on all issues in the family and is generally the prime decision maker and spokesperson for the family. Ironically, they are usually primarily either drivers or feelers. A good dominant authoritarian will be an excellent communicator and actually make others in the family feel as though they are helping to make decisions. An excellent dominant authoritarian actually lets the other family members be productive and participate in the activities and decision making processes at hand. Then that person simply summarizes and organizes the results into a statement which everyone, including the aftercare provider can understand. Usually this person is fairly easy to spot in the group and may even identify themselves in some other synonymous description to you as such on the front end of an encounter. There is the occasional want-to-be that might try to position themselves as the dominant authoritarian. Most of these want-to-be s tend to be related only through marriage and are easily eliminated from the mix once this meeting gets going. You will almost never be able to de-throne the DA and shouldnt really try to. If that is ever going to happen, it must happen within the democracy of the family unit. You must obviously find creative ways and thoughts within the conversations to garner the aid of the DAs authority to accomplish your desired goals.
Occasionally you will encounter a family where there is a noticeable struggle for ultimate authority between two potential DAs. Never try to assist either one in this battle and never try to be a mediator between them. Instead, allow them to speak and react in the family setting on the same plane as everyone else included in the conversation. Let the other family members deal with the results of this struggle in their own way. You are not the Shell Answer Man and aftercare situations are not an appropriate arena for such family issues to be solved in.
The second person to look for is the person of positive influence (the PPI). This person will almost always see the bright side of any situation. In some family settings this person may not emerge until there is an actually need for someone within the family to see the bright or good side of a certain circumstance. They are general very low maintenance people who once identified, are easy to gravitate to in a conversation. It is not uncommon for them to be related to the family through marriage, but it is not a rule etched in stone. They are usually primarily feelers or theorists. However, just about anyone of the four mentality types can handle this position. When the person of positive influence is also the dominant authoritarian you generally have a very comfortable and easy family situation to work with, and you should be able to experience expected results fairly easily.
The third person in the family setting to look for is the person of negative influence (the PNI). Again, this person may not identify themselves immediately, but if they do, they usually have a very pointed and narrowed agenda. There are some family settings that this person is so well recognized by the other members of the family that they (the PNI) never have to say a word the whole time. Their facial expressions and body language are so discernable by the family, and their influence is very overwhelming. They tend to be primarily either feelers, analysts or drivers. However, it is not uncommon to see a theorist assume this family role. In a family setting, in-laws and oldest children tend to fill this role more readily then other family members. This however should never become an assumption on the aftercare providers part. If you are unable to detect who this person is early in the aftercare situation, start watching the eyes of the other family members in that particular arena. Watch who they gravitate to when a sensitive or negative subject is being discussed. Many times it will be to the person they fear undesired results from.
Sometimes other family members will help you identify the PNI, if their presence is not obvious. They (the other family members) do this by asking the PNI for their opinion. Many times the family member asking the PNI such a question could be a rival or enemy of the PNI. Because the PNI is generally a high maintenance person that requires a lot of personal attention, they may not be comfortable in a family group setting and thus, may not remain long in such an environment. Their influence on the family may feel threatened by an outsider such as an aftercare provider. This is especially true in female PNIs. Male PNIs tend to be able to endure this setting longer and are usually more quiet in such groups. If the person of negative influence is also the DA, fasten your seatbelt you may very well be in for a wild and crazy ride through the aftercare process.
The ideal family group for an aftercare setting is five or more, where the DA, PNI and PPI are all individual people in that number. Ideally, the PNI will be virtually non-existent or without any measurable influence. The DA might be the PPI, and that is usually a good arrangement. Judging the possibilities and amount of influence that the PNI will have on the other members of the group will be key to the results you are attempting to achieve.
It is advisable to never be in an isolated area alone, with just the DA or primary next of kin if they are of the opposite gender. You may be in a room without anyone else present if the door is open or ajar and you are certain of the knowledge that someone else is within hearing distance. If such a conversation is being desired by someone of the opposite gender, make a polite and courteous excuse as to why someone they trust should be in the room with the both of you while such a discussion is taking place. Sentences using words like support, accountability or integrity would be very acceptable key words in such a pleasant and courteous preliminary exchange. Sometimes bringing in an intern into the room with you for the sake of their training and personal experience may be a very discrete way to handle such a request.
Using good judgement and ground level or common approach to knowing who the needy are on a personal and family group basis will make your aftercare situations exceptionally more effective.

Providing Quality Aftercare

There are three basic influences of quality aftercare. They are 1). Practical/Physical 2). Emotional/Mental 3). Spiritual/Religious. Some grieving families may only need assistance and care in one or two of these areas, while others may need extensive care in all three. The discerning and interested aftercare provider should be able to provide a nourishing amount of care in all three formats.

Practical physical care.

Practical aftercare is fairly inclusive and is a summary of the standard normal activities that surround day to day living after the death and funeral have transpired. This may include assisting a childless widow with routine post funeral functions such as filing insurance policies, social security and Veterans Administration claim forms. It may even include helping a survivor learn how to manage a check book. It may also be things as simple as knowing which day of the week to set the trash out for pick up or basic household skills such as operating a major appliance. It may include giving the key survivor a list of professional referrals such as accountants, auctioneers, realtors and attorneys if requested and/or needed. It is a very tangible physical hands on way of showing genuine practical care and concern that the survivor(s) are able to step back into the circle of life as easily and as soon as possible.
It is probably the most common form of initial care given when there is an elderly widow or widower that has no children or they live a long distance from their nearest family members. If compatible immediate family members reside locally and are actively involved in that persons life, they would more than likely be participating in the bulk of this kind of care for their loved ones. Be sure that you do not interfere with the processes any family member(s) might have already established or have in place to render this type of practical aftercare. Remember, family always comes first, and blood is thicker than water. If things are being handled by other family members who are caring and responsible, stay out of the way and dont intrude by getting involved, unless you are asked to do so.

Mental and emotional care.

The mental and emotional needs for aftercare are sometimes not as easily detected as the practical and physical needs of life. Some people going through grief will automatically express such a need, while others conceal their emotions and feelings until they are in a more comfortable environment.
This environment is often created by gathering the family together to talk. When those more resistant see that expression and communication is a very acceptable behavior, many times they will lay aside their concerns and insecurities and participate to some extent in the care centered discussions. These sessions are not meant to be times when the problem of grief is cured or fixed. Rather, they are meant to be times of healing and growth into and through the natural grieving and mourning processes.
There is a vast difference between curing and healing. Curing something is the elimination of the problem. Healing, in the sense of aftercare, is the qualitative change of pain and suffering into meaning and value. We never want to eliminate grief, but we do want to help those in grief benefit from it, and know its purpose for our lives. Grief is a very necessary process of life. It is a deep sorrow or mental distress brought about by loss or affliction. Grief is necessary. Mourning is the expression of that grieving process within someone. If you every want to see what misery looks like, look into the face of someone who totally resists and denies the processes of grief and mourning in their life. Because grief is a necessary process and not an acquired disease, it is logical to perceive that grief may never fully subside. It is probably very good that it doesnt. If we are willing to participate in the normal healthy grief processes, we will learn from it how we are to deal with loss, pain and suffering. This should be the goal of the aftercare provider when assisting a family through the preliminary stages of grief. If we opt to be stoic and suppress this process we will eventually pay the price emotionally, mentally and quite possibly physically.
What are some good ways to start off such an aftercare encounter with a family? Generally, it is best to wade into the waters of communication and expression rather than to dive in head first. A good way to start the session would be to ask a question of the participants like this:

If all of your possessions were suddenly taken away from you, except for one tangible personal item that you own, what would it be?

This question might give you some insight as to what the values of certain family members truly are. A refusal to participate by one of the family members or a very firm Im not sure might indicate that they are really wrestling hard with the whole grief issue. Almost invariably, someone answering this question will value an object or picture that connects them to the recently deceased relative. This is when the door opens wide to share the memories of the attributes and stories of that loved one by the other family members present. Then your primary job as an aftercare provider is to facilitate or oversee this interactive conversation between the family members. If a story is shared about the deceased that may not seem to be relevant or connect to the main flow of the session, it might be appropriate to ask a question similar to this one:

Thats an interesting story. How does that relate to you personally, or what caused you to share that with us?

Typically this will either correct the spill out of the main flow of the conversation with a response of I dont know by the story teller, or else it may possible bring up a new point or related particular that can be discussed.
Never try to analyze or give your take on a particular story. Create an opportunity for other family members to give their take on the story. Do not try to play doctor with the emotions of the moment. If someone has just shared a very moving story and there is a healthy expression of tears moving through the room, dont feel the ultimate need as an aftercare provider to be stoic and emotionless. On the other hand, dont be a crocodile tear factory either. When you lay a counterfeit twenty dollar bill next to a real one its not hard o tell the difference.
Remember, you are there to facilitate and guide their discussion into healthier areas of expression and communication, not to cure their grief and bereavement issues. Never exalt yourself into a position of dominance. Refrain from introducing yourself to the group by listing your credentials or communicating in ways that would insinuated that you have the upper hand on helping them through the grief process. If you are aware of how the group will be dressed (casual, informal or formal) plan to dress in the same manner. Try in every way possible to level the playing field between them and yourself. Be as much a part of them as you can be without being obnoxious.
Try not to perceive aftercare as a treatment plan for peoples grief problems. Do not set time goals for them or for their recovery from and through grief related issues. Some people will grieve at various levels throughout the rest of their lives, and thats OK. To some grief is like waves coming in on the beach its fairly continuous with only minor breaks. To others, grief only occasionally appears as a gentle cloud passing across the sky in front of the sun for a brief moment or two.
It is often said that the four primary stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. Never insist on keeping these stages in any specific order or confining them to certain amounts of time on the calendar. One is not a right of passage to another and it is never mandatory that everyone go successfully through all four of these stages to be considered a normal person experiencing grief.
The feelings of shock, confusion, anxiety, guilt, sadness and maybe even physical illness may be present during the experiencing of any one of these stages, including acceptance.
Dont be overly concerned if someone is stuck in one of the identifiable stages of grief. For instance if someone appears to really be wrestling continuously with the anger part of grief, dont be overly concerned with getting them through it, or on to the next stage of grief. Instead, give them creative suggestions on how to channel that felt anger into a creative or constructive cause. Some of the major campaigns for laws now in force regarding drunk drivers in our nation, were led by angry mothers of children who were killed in alcohol related auto accidents. Anger isnt always wrong when it is harnessed and used for constructive and creative purposes.
Some people will never come into a complete and full sense of acceptance the loss or affliction they have suffered. You as an aftercare provider must accept that fact. They may inwardly acknowledge the death or loss but outwardly never be able to step beyond or through the veil of denial. That might be the only way they are ever able to cope with the loss enough to continue living their own life.
As an effective aftercare provider you must be aware that those you are caring for may be suffering from other losses and pains unrelated to the situation that you are involved with them. These may compound or complicate the grief processes and symptoms. This condition is referred to as complicated or compound grief.
As an example, you may be talking to someone in their early 40s who has just went through the memorialization of their parent and three months earlier experienced a bitter divorce. Now death related grief is not the only problem. There is also the grief and pain of loosing a spouse of many years. These two sets of issues may form a very complex mesh of grief symptoms and expressions of mourning.
Be alert. Be aware of the common signals people give out. Dont just listen to what people say to you. Also, listen to what they are not saying to you. Recognize the issues they are not addressing and words they are not saying when they communicate with you. In some cases, those may be just as important. When given the opportunity, listen intently at what they are saying and not saying and to whom they are choosing to communicate with. Remember, the vast majority of communication is non-verbal.

The three Ls..

Most important of all, practice the three Ls of aftercare. First of all, listen to what the people in grief are saying to you and those around them. Many people just need to know that someone is interested enough in their concerns to take time to listen to them. Others may be subliminally expressing a need for help in deeper ways than you may be able to render. You need to be a good enough listener to recognize such a call.
Dont be afraid of silence. Sometimes, a lot is said by the silence. Listen to the silence. Many times the words said prior to and just after a period of silence will clarify the message of the silence.
Secondly, be a learner. Learn something from each situation you are involved with. Learn to recognize similar tendencies and responses of those grieving. Dont learn for the purpose of knowing how to cure others, but rather learn from each situation in order to help others progress through the healing processes with less set-backs. Learn about yourself and your own reactions, abilities and deficiencies in dealing with pain, loss and suffering. It will help you in your communication and support of others you work with in grief and mourning.
The last L represents love. Grow to love the people you are caring for. Look past the very obvious problems or tangible shortcomings and see the real spirit of the person you are working with. Love them by making sure they are as comfortable as possible at any given moment you are with them. Love them by showing compassion and sympathy for their circumstances. Love them by taking time to be with them and by listening to them. Love them by helping them enough to help them accomplish the simplest of tasks they may perceive to mean the difference between peace and frustration. Love them by gently telling them that they are not alone as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, loss, pain and suffering. Love them enough to keep them walking with you in the truth of the reality of the moment. Love them enough to find them the help they may need when their needs exceed your caregiving abilities. In other words, love them enough to not play Superman with them.
In the Christian faith there is a passage of scripture that is duplicated in principal content in the writings of every other major religious sect. It goes like this: "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25: 35-40

Spirituality and aftercare..

Most aftercare providers shy away from spiritual interaction in aftercare situations. Spiritual care is nothing to be afraid of. We sometimes subtly judge people and quietly discriminate against each other because our own particular spiritual belief system. Caring for and communicating with someone in grief on a spiritual basis is all a matter awareness and willingness to be considerate and helpful.
When attempting to communicate with someone about spiritual matters you may find that learning their spiritual ideals will help you be more effective as an aftercare provider in their life. In regards to their spiritual life you may want to ask them three key questions:

What is your source of strength?

What is true peace to you?

Where do you find security?

The answers to these three questions will tell you a lot about that particular persons faith and/or spiritual life. Are their answers based on the faith they practice or are they represented by tangible items around them? There are no wrong answers just informative answers. Use these answers to formulate a persons religious posture and spiritual position. You will notice that we have not questioned them about their religious preferences or denominational affiliation. Some people are outwardly affiliated with a particular faith or denomination, but inwardly they have beliefs and convictions that do not completely align with that outward affiliation. These questions are not necessarily meant to be questions of theology, but rather questions of personal belief and conviction.
For example if someone answered these questions by saying: I find my strength from Gods Holy Spirit. My peace exists in knowing Jesus Christ personally. My security is found in the fellowship I experience in my church. it would be safe to assume this person is a Christian and that there faith is connected to God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and their particular church. This person could be a Christian representing any number of denominations of either the Protestant persuasion or Catholicism. These would be various points on which you could find conversational connections.
Another example would be if someone answered these questions like this: I find strength in the beauty of nature around me. I experience peace when I am surrounded by the great outdoors. I am secure in knowing that I am who I am. it would be a safe assumption that this persons spirituality is based in nature and in self worth. This person could be an agnostic, an atheist, a Hindu or strongly involved in the new age movement or scientology. Again, from these statements, you may look for common ground on which you can start a spiritual interaction for care and comfort.
What is an appropriate way to react if someone should ask you to pray for them? When someone makes this request of you it is safe to make two assumptions. The first assumption is that they must obviously recognize that there is a power, or the potential of a power that can be summoned or released by praying. The second assumption you may make is that they have a need which they want to have fulfilled by someone or something bigger than themselves and more capable then they are.
The very worst response that you can give them is Let me go find you a minister (priest or rabbi). They have asked you to pray with and/or for them. When respond to them in this manner, you are basically telling them that you are not willing to offer your own format of spiritual care and comfort to them. Such a response is an act of rejection and/or denial of what they have asked of you. If they have asked you to pray for them, they have more than likely seen that you have an interest in their wellbeing and that this interest represents to them an activity of spiritual awareness within you.
First, ask them if they would be willing to tell you exactly what they want you to pray with and for them about (if you dont already know at that point). Then, at your own discretion or comfort level, you may approach the request for prayer in any one of these five appropriate responses.

1). If you are comfortable praying in a traditional verbal way in the presence of others simply ask this question: Would you mind if I pray in the manner that I am accustomed to? Typically this acts as a very polite buffer for you to express your prayer in a way that know how to and are most comfortable with. If there would be a hesitancy, or even a negative answer, you might want to choose one of the following options.

2). You might want to offer a generic prayer. A generic prayer is a prayer that has only a traditional middle part. The beginning and endings are left out or prayed in silence. The introductions and closings of most prayers are where religious preferences are made the most obvious. If they are eliminated, there is a possibility that the pray will have a positive effect or pacify the person requesting it without offending them. Such a prayer might sound something like this: We ask that You would grant my friend a special measure of peace to understand why these circumstances have come into his life. Give us both the strength and courage to face the remainder of this day and the rest of our lives as You would have us to. Amen. Note the lack of opening and formal closure to the prayer.

3). You may want to present the option of a tag-team prayer. Initiate this type of prayer by saying: You start the prayer and Ill follow your lead. Then you can finish the prayer as you feel most comfortable. This allows that person to participate with you in the prayer, making them an integral part of the process.

4). This is the non-verbal solution to the request for prayer. Simply say: Lets take a moment or two to pray in silence. Ill pray for you during that time if youll pray for me OK? This is a great solution for the aftercare provider to use if they are uncomfortable offering verbal public prayers or feel very uncertain as to the persons true spiritual values or religious preferences.

5). The last alternative is probably the least recommended, but will offer some form of consolation to the person requesting the aftercare provider to pray for them. Respond to the request by saying: I will be glad to keep you in my thoughts and prayers this week.

We are all people with spiritual natures. We all have spiritual ideals, beliefs and needs. They may vary from person to person and there may be a variety of expression even in people of similar belief systems and convictions. Never allow the fear of offending someone interfere with providing spiritual care for them, should they request it. While it is always better to wait for someone to ask you about being a part of their spiritual influence in the aftercare process, it is never wrong to bring spiritual applications and insinuations into normal aftercare discussions. This leaves the door of opportunity comfortably open to them, should they so desire you to be apart of that aspect of their life. A suggestion of how to do this would go something like this:

As we begin to understand the emotions that express our grief, we can see how they affect us mentally in our thoughts and reactions, in the health of our physical bodies, and in our spiritual journey through this life.

In just that statement you have made reference to the three key dimensions of our existence - body mind and spirit. This has given them a door of opportunity to seek spiritual help and care if they are desiring it. They may seek such spiritual guidance and support from you. Do not be afraid or hesitant. You do not need to be a biblical scholar or an expert in liturgical procedures or comparative religion to be an encouragement in their spiritual life. You need only to show genuine concern and unbiased encouragement. It is also good to know your own spiritual beliefs convictions and boundaries so that you are sure not to offend them or detour their spiritual progress in a manner that would be critical to them. Most people will respect your spiritual beliefs and convictions, and the fact that you are very committed to them, even though they may not completely agree with them.
Planning the Program

Aftercare is more than spending time with those in grief and helping them with the practical physical aspects of loss and renewal. There is also a sense of community and a need for re-establishing oneself within this community, or as it is commonly called, the circle of life.
This can be accomplished in many ways and styles. One of the most common ways is in the formation of support groups. A support group is simply a group of people who share common life experiences that they have learned how to or are learning how to live with and/or appreciate. They are not hard to start, especially if the funeral home you are affiliated with as an aftercare provider keeps accurate records as to the circumstantial causes of death. Your job as an aftercare provider, is to establish a meeting time and location, invite the participants with shared similar experiences, and then facilitate healthy discussions in those meetings that help the participants adjust to the circumstances and environments of their life in regards to the common good. You are not there to lecture them or present a series of interactive self-help seminars. You are simply a coordinator and facilitator. They will learn more from the others who have shared similar life experiences than you would ever be able to lecture into them in 12 meetings.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of support groups you may want to organize if the need is present: parents in grief, children in grief, survivors of traumatic or sudden death victims, SIDS parents, survivors of AIDS patients etc.
Sometimes there are major nationally organized support groups already in place in your community. A simple referral on your behalf or maybe attending such a meeting with the person or persons you are working with as moral support only might be appropriate. Do not try and re-invent the wheel. Learn and know the resources already available in your community.
Another way in which you can provide an effective aftercare program is to offer scheduled events. Some of these might include the following: Seasonal memorial services held at the funeral home. They may be annual, semi-annually or quarterly events. Plan these events so that their timing does not interfere with the typical funeral home visitation schedule or the participants religious worship schedules. In protestant Christian communities, it would be best to avoid Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. In primarily Catholic communities you may consider avoiding Saturday late afternoons or Sunday mornings. In Jewish communities avoid Friday evening and Saturday morning. Be sensitive to the worship schedules of your community. This service can be led by an aftercare provider or by a universally respected minister in the community. If there is an ordained minister who is also an on staff funeral director with your firm, he or she would be an ideal choice because of their personal history in serving and caring for the potential attendees.
Be very creative with the content of these memorial services and try to always have a personal participation point included in them. A classical example would be to have a small to mid sized pastel colored flag neatly draped over a table in front of the chapel where the memorial service is being held. At some point in the service, have the participants come forward to inscribe the name of their loved one with a permanent marker you have laying next to the flag for their use. At the conclusion of the service either go out to a designated flagpole on the funeral homes property and raise the flag or give each participant a schedule in writing of when this particular flag will be flown in remembrance of their loved one(s).
Another style of memorial service around the annually end of the year holidays would be to have an artificial holiday tree available during the memorial service for loved ones to hang a personalized ornament on in memory of their loss. If you do not provide an ornament for them, be sure to make the invitation exceptionally clear that they are to bring an ornament for use in part of the memorial service. At the conclusion of the service make instructions very clear
as to when they can come to the funeral home in the future to retrieve for personal use in the future the ornament that is hanging on the tree in their loved ones memory. Having personalized ornaments already prepared for them (the attendees) is another excellent way to keep the name of your funeral home in their home for years to come.
Other creative memorial services include a balloon launch in warmer times of the year. In this service, every desiring participant is given a helium filled balloon to write the name of their loved one on. At the conclusion of the service, all of the participants wishing to do so may step out into the yard or parking lot of the funeral home and simultaneously release their balloons. This type of memorial can have a very powerful healing affect in the symbolism of releasing that loved one to eternal life beyond mortality.
Gear these special events to fit the movement and interests of the community. Make them comfortable for those attending to participate in personally, and also for others to just be there as an interested comfortable observer. Never force anyone to participate and never beg or insinuate to someone on a personal basis that they need to be there, or that they need to participate in this personalized part of the service. Give them room to make the choices they need to make.
Being a well studied funeral director or an ordained priest or minister, or having a post graduate degree doesnt automatically qualify you as an effective aftercare provider. Some of the best aftercare people I have been around in my lengthy career have none of the above qualifications. Having a passion to care and serve others and being willing to develop and grow into a person that practices the three Ls (listening, learning and loving) as a practical and personal lifestyle will start you in the right direction to becoming an exceptional aftercare provider and specialist.

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