"Good Grief" seminar offers hope, healing to Wainwright community
September 1, 2011
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Seventy members of the Fort Wainwright community, including Soldiers, Family members and civilian employees, attended the "Good Grief" dinner and seminar Aug. 26 at the Westmark Hotel in Fairbanks to learn about the grieving process. Fort Wainwright chaplains and Survivor Outreach Services hosted the event designed to provide a roadmap through grieving for those who have suffered losses ranging from the death of a loved one to divorce and even the loss of a pet, said Chaplain (Maj.) Dwight Broedel, Fort Wainwright's Family Life chaplain.
Broken into two parts, the seminar addressed the question "what is grief" and explored classic stages and common questions associated with loss and the role God plays in grieving and healing.
"We can answer the questions of 'who, what, where and how, but the most elusive question of all is 'why; why did it happen? Why do we have to suffer so when someone we love is gone,'" Broedel said. "The answer remains a mystery that God alone can see. We don't get that answer this side of heaven and yet we're always asking, 'why? why? why?"
Describing the process as more like a cinnamon roll than a strictly linear process, Broedel said the classic stages of grief, according to researcher Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
"Instead of Kubler-Ross's linear (model), it's much more like a spiral," he explained. "You move around and around. We're always in the process of this journey. The important part is that you keep moving forward by talking about it, by laughing, by crying, by being real in the midst of the grief. Denying it really doesn't help to move you through this process."
Serving as a take-home reminder of the circular process of grieving, each attendee left the event with a cinnamon roll.
"I call this process the 'cinnamon roll theory of grief,' because it really is sweet and a good thing," Broedel said. "We wanted to give (participants) something (they) could go home with and remember tomorrow that God's love really does matter and is real as (they) go through this process."
Five Families of fallen service members were among the attendees. Susan Hernandez, wife of Sgt. Irving Hernandez, Jr., who was killed by a sniper in Iraq in 2006, attended the seminar as part of her continued effort to not just bring healing to her own Family, but also to the entire community.
"This was good. It was really good," Hernandez said. "I think there is a big need here for this, not only just for survivors, but for the entire Fort Wainwright community."
Michelle Benjamin, SOS program coordinator, said seminars like this one are always needed.
"It was an amazing event," Benjamin said. "Being in the job that I have I see many different faces of grief. People experience so many different things in the stages of grief and talking about this is only going to help them work through their grief."
In addition to dealing with the issues of deployment, Jen Curtis, wife of 1st Lt. Derek Curtis, medical officer with 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, has suffered the loss of several family members recently and wanted to find tools to help her and her children work through the grieving process.
"I thought this would be good for my kids and for me to work through this process more," she said. "Besides Derek being gone right now, my brother-in-law was killed in a car accident and that has been really hard on them and my grandmother died so it's just that a lot has happened in a really short period of time. I grieve my own grief but I sometimes feel like I grieve for (my children), too, so I hoped there would be something here to help them."
In addition to the seminar for adults, there was also programming for children with age-appropriate activities also addressing issues surrounding loss and grieving.
One of the highlights of the evening for children and adults alike was the dessert ice cream bar. Broedel said the ice cream bar is one of the signature components he likes to do at events to bless the people who attend.
"There is something really joyful about making a banana split that almost reawakens childhood," he said. "It helps them to feel loved. So watching people experience love in multitude of ways is always my favorite part."
Broedel said he intends to seek additional funding from the chief of chaplains to host "Good Grief" seminars again in the future.
"I was very surprised at the number of people who expressed and interest and need in this," he said. "So I'm going to go back and request another grant to hopefully do this again."