Volume 22
Number 4
The Forum issue of Association of Professional Chaplains

A Message from APC President… May 2020

APC President Joseph Perez MDiv BCC

Dear APC Colleagues,

As we continue this journey through the covid-19 pandemic, I am more convinced than ever that one of the spiritual disciplines needed for holistic health in such a time as this is the discipline of learning to grieve well. And sadly, it is rarely taught thoroughly in traditional places of religious practice.  For chaplains have learned that if one does not learn to grieve well, it will surely affect a person’s holistic living. 

I know I am preaching to the choir when I write this note, and at the same time we need to remember our holistic needs as well.  Grief is as normal as life and change.  When one thing ends, another begins; and in this process, the loss must be addressed.  As we begin to become aware of our responses to the losses in life, we naturally develop resources to deal with them.  Most of the time this awareness comes through expressing our honest experience with a trusted friend, family member, spiritual leader or counselor.  Yet, when we deny or avoid the natural response of loss, we cannot develop resiliency.  In such instances, our bodies will find other ways (and many are not healthy) to deal with the stress.  The holistic disciplines that we learn to guide us through grief are also helpful with other stresses like fear, anxiety and worry (which are certainly prevalent in our current environments as well).

David Kessler published a book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.  (Kessler also authored with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross the book, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss.) Recently, Scott Berinato, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, interviewed Kessler and wrote an article entitled That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief. The interview focused on the specific consequence of grief during the pandemic.  Kessler addressed the multiple losses everyone in our society is experiencing at this time — such as the loss of normalcy and connection with close relationships, as well as fear of the economic changes that will come. Berinato noted that Kessler spoke of the “collective grief in the air”.  For, society as a whole is collectively experiencing these griefs together, which rarely occurs.  This collective grief includes anticipatory grief because the future is so uncertain.  Our imagination of what is to come can confuse and create real unrest in us individually and collectively. 

When these things are happening, it’s helpful to know how the body works through grief as is taught in Kessler/Kübler-Ross’ aspects of the grief process.  As we understand our body, mind and spirit’s response to grief, we can call on other resources to balance the stress.  Though the grief remains (for we do not getrid of it), we learn to balance the grief, and compulsive uncomfortable thinking that comes with stress, through awareness first and then discipline, focusing on the present and accessing good resources to walk the path before us. 

One very important aspect left to remember (and I did not find this expressed directly in the interview) is the need for holistic community to walk this personal and collective grief journey.  Alan Wolfelt states that healthy grieving includes mourning (“grief gone public”).  Having a safe, trustworthy person to talk through the present experience is vital to holistic health.  May we, with the Holy’s assistance, continue to grow in our resources for holistic health by learning to grieve well through the current experiences! 

To assist with this, APC is provding our members with free Round-table COVID-19 Discussion forums as well as Professional Community Support Groups for chaplains to share their stories, what they have learned and how they are handling their experiences with COVID-19.  To view a list of upcomming calls, please visit the APC Events page.

Joseph Perez MDiv BCC is the Vice President for Mission & Ministry at Valley Baptist Health System in Harlingen & Brownsville, TX. He serves as President of the APC Board and may be contacted at president@professionalchaplains.org.


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