Lisa Irish, Chaplain Speaks about Grief & Healing
WRITTEN BY; Dave Barnas, M.S., CES, NASM-CPT , November 1, 2012
Dave:In the continued spirit of learning and sharing with other health enthusiasts. I am excited to open the door for an interview with Lisa Irish, a long-time client and health care professional who specializes in bereavement support. Lisa is a Chaplain in a New Haven hospital, providing support during times of crisis, end-of-life and for those who are grieving. Lisa has been working in the field of ministry for 25 years as a teacher, campus minister, spiritual director, retreat director, chaplain and bereavement coordinator. She has a Masters Degree in Education, a Masters Degree in Theology, and is certified with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.
Welcome Lisa! I wanted to begin this Q & A by saying that I am really excited to learn from you. I have always admired you as a person and find the work you do very admirable. I have lots of questions, so, let’s start from the beginning…
Dave:When did you first decide to support those who are grieving? Or work in the bereavement field?
Lisa: My career has evolved over the years. I started out in education and actually taught classes in death and dying. When I trained as a Chaplain, I was given the opportunity to offer a loving, faith-filled presence for those facing some of the worst experiences of their lives. I was called to bedside for those getting a bad diagnosis, dying, or watching a loved one pass away. I grew professionally and also learned to draw upon my own strengths. The invitation to become the Bereavement Coordinator at the Hospital of St Raphael came seven years ago and gave me the opportunity to lead support groups, teach about loss and grief and sit with individuals who are hurting.
Dave: What is your current view/philosophy about grief and how has it changed over the years?
Lisa: I try to teach people that grief is a fluid, unpredictable process that will lead, ultimately to healing. It is a natural form of healing from loss. A current theory, The Dual Process Model, says that we move back and forth between times of loss (sadness, isolation, despair) and times of restoration (trying to work, making an effort, hoping). It is hard work to ride that back and forth line between these two places and most times it feels like we have no control. That’s why it’s so important to fill one’s life with support – people, places, things and thoughts – as the process unfolds.
My view has changed from years ago, now I see the painful feelings as my teacher, they have helped me understand myself and this gift of life. But of course, it’s very easy to look at them as a teacher when you’re NOT in the middle of the pain. I try to help my clients trust the process and themselves and allow healing to take place just as it does for a broken bone or cut finger. Healing is a natural part of our humanity.
Dave: With regards to the grieving process, is it very individual specific or are there generalities to it, etc?
Lisa: The grieving process is both universal and personal at the same time. There are universal truths or generalities that are true for most people. We all know the pain of loss, the fear of facing a new life alone, we know our tendency to “get busy” to avoid the hurt, we know how exhausting the time of grief can be. At the same time, grieving is a unique and highly personal experience. Our individuality creates an individual reaction to loss. We are different in many ways, such as: childhood, role models, culture, the type of death-sudden or long illness, caregiving- seeing them in pain, gender, financial situation, belief systems, and so forth. These various elements create our unique reaction to the universal experience of loss.
Dave: As someone experienced in offering bereavement support, I am sure you’ve heard patients say that when dealing with loss many folks, friends, etc. of the patient, tell them “Oh, just get over it.” What is you feeling about this?
Lisa: Believe it or not, people still say that to their friends and family! I am so sad every time a client tells me this because it is insensitive and unfair to someone who is hurting from loss. I tell my clients they have my permission to say, “I’m never going to get over it, I’m never going to get under it or around it! I have to go through it!” In other words, I explain, each of us have our own rhythm and or own timing. A grieving person deserves the time they need to heal.
Dave: I love that quote you shared. Very powerful. OK. Last question…big one here. What role does God play in the work that you do and in the process of helping others through the grieving process?
Lisa: My spirituality and journey with God has invited me to see God in all things, all people, all of creation. Somedays that is easier to do than others, of course. So, when I sit with those who are suffering, I experience that as a sacred moment, because in my way of looking at it, this person is right in the middle of an important part of their journey. They are confronting the deep love they felt with that person, they are considering the big questions of life after death, and they are struggling with even believing in God! So, I sit there, humbled by their courage to grieve and by the witness of Love that their grieving represents.
I guess I am not afraid to seek God in pain and that is one of the things I offer those who come to me for help.