Seattle conference promotes an open approach to grief Social conventions thwart expression, experts say


SEATTLE -- When a woman had a miscarriage, it used to be standard practice for hospitals to whisk away the infant to spare the mother unnecessary grief.

When a parent died, hospitals often prevented the children from seeing the body, said Kathy McMillan, a special-care nurse clinician at California's Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Because of that, patients and their families were, in effect, denied the right to grieve, she said.

But slowly things have started to change, not only in hospitals but in the way society is learning to deal with grief.

Promoting that change is precisely the purpose of the 1996 World Gathering on Bereavement, a conference that started Thursday and continues through today at a hotel near Seattle.

The conference, a follow-up to a 1991 event also held in the Seattle area, is bringing together those who are grief-stricken and the professionals who work with them.

"Bereavement is finally getting recognition," McMillan said. "People are becoming aware that there's a real need to focus on the grieving process."

The conference has drawn people from across the country and as far away as Japan and Australia. It includes more than 90 workshops on such topics as helping children deal with a death in school and survivors of homicide victims.

Among the speakers are several nationally recognized specialists on grief and bereavement, including Earl Grollman, the author of "Living When a Loved One Has Died," who was asked by community groups to come to Oklahoma City after the bombing to counsel survivors, and Dale Larson, whose video series on care-giving is used nationwide for bereavement training.

"When you talk to people, they're still assuming grief is something you get over," said Darcie Sims, who helped organize tTC the first event five years ago with two friends who had also dealt with the death of a child. "But it's a myth that you ever get over it."

In many ways, the culture makes it difficult for people to show their grief, she said. When you lose someone you love, you often get three days off from work and are then expected to return to work and carry on without expressing your grief, she said. But when a woman gives birth, she is often given months to spend with her child.

Those who have suffered loss are also often expected to recover quickly, even though the pace of healing varies with each individual, Sims said.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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