By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Bob Willis’ hands started shaping and carving a lump of clay as he began a 45-minute talk to a group of nurses and health care workers and they never stopped. Willis was just one of the presenters at a day-long workshop organized by the Diocese of Jackson’s Office of Health Ministry. Other presentations focused on healthcare partnerships and faith-based healthcare groups.
More than 60 attended the event, held at St. Richard Parish Thursday, March 6. Willis, a sculptor from Oklahoma who works in hospice ministries, was speaking on grief and caregivers. He spoke about how nurses, as caregivers, deal with lots of grief. All people grieve change, he explained, and often those in a hospital or hospice situation need help with that grief.
His presentation was aimed at giving caregivers some tools to use in their ministry. One of his strategies is to honor the relationship between the caregiver and the one needing care. He suggested asking about the relationship to get the caregiver talking. “I tell them to think about what they would say if they could speak to the person again. What would you thank them for? What happy memories do you have? For what would you forgive them,” he said.
Forgiveness, he explained, is a big part of the grief and mourning process. “In grief work, forgiveness is giving up the hope of a different yesterday,” he said. People can’t change what happened in the past, but they can let go of old hurts. “When you don’t forgive it’s like a big heavy coat – and it stinks,” he said. The longer a person ‘wears’ the coat and the more anger and other emotions they pick up the heavier it gets. When a person forgives, they can lay down that burden. “Sometimes forgiveness is for things you did not hear,” he added, explaining that people sometimes wanted to hear ‘I love you’ or some similar sentiment from a loved one, but never did.
As he spoke, he shaped a heart with a fissure cut through it out of the clay. He said that grief expressed is mourning and explained that organizing and expressing grief will help people heal. The last part of his sculpture is adding stitches and a bandage to the fissure in the heart. He uses this symbol to speak to those who are caregivers or those who work with them. He said in his work in hospice he learned that “bandages don’t heal things, they just hold things together while you heal. You can’t fix a griever, but you can be a bandage – holding them together while they heal,” he said.
Prior to his presentation different community nursing representatives, including groups from Magee St. Stephen and Brookhaven St. Francis of Assisi presented information about their collaborative efforts. The gathering was organized by the Parish Health Ministries Office, headed by Ann Elizabeth Kaiser. Nurses who attended were able to earn continuing education credits.
The following day, Willis led a workshop for caregivers in Natchez at the St. Mary’s Basilica Family Life Center and Monday, March 10 he met with the grief and loss group from the parish.