Name: Susan Latta
Hometown: La Canada, California
Job: Director of grief counseling at Hospice of Chattanooga
The Bible's Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything: A time to be born and a time to die a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Even the secular world has embraced healthy mourning as a way to work through the grief associated with the death of a loved one.
Susan Latta, director of grief counseling at Hospice of Chattanooga, says the last year — which has included a surge in deaths associated with COVID-19 — has tested our grief customs and traditions. Even professional grief counselors have been forced to improvise.
Still, she says, as a society, we Americans don't intuitively know how to process our grief. But we can learn.
It's important to work through emotional triggers that can plunge people into instant despair and to understand the tasks required in order to absorb grief in a healthy way, says Latta.
Here, Latta — who suffered her own grief last year — offers some insight into the process.
* COVID has complicated a lot of people's grief in the past 10 months as it erupted in our world. A lot of is it this collective anxiety, this collective grief that our nation, our world, has been in.
* Think about how often in a day you hear about death, right now. Prior to the middle of March (2020) you were not hearing death, death, death.
A time — and place — to grieve
Hospice of Chattanooga grief services, including online support groups, are free and open to anyone. Visit hospiceofchattanooga.org for more information.
* We have people from other states who have joined our (Hospice of Chattanooga) virtual support groups. We have one woman from Missouri whose husband suicided, and (she) could not find a support group in her area. We had some kids that were in Michigan and Minnesota that participated in our virtual Kid's Camp this summer. That's been way cool, being able to utilize technology to get people to have options around grief.
* My dad died (last year), 59 days after my stepdad died. I was actually with my stepdad when he died. I was the only one who was with him when he took his last breath.
* My dad had been in a nursing home over 10 years with Parkinson's. He had basically lost everything except his mind. I felt some relief for him, but also some sadness that I did not have the opportunity to be with my dad like I was with my stepdad.
* One of the gifts of my job is that I can talk about my dad with (grieving) kids, or anyone, really. It's cool to be able to do that. I'm missing my dad.
* Sudden Unexpected Grief (SUG) moments are generally associated with your senses, so things you touch, taste, see and smell. You can be doing just great and all of a sudden you are in your car and a song comes on and you are just in a puddle of tears. All of a sudden that song reminds you of your husband or your son. It's that sudden emotion that triggers you at unexpected times.
* I worked with a dad over the summer. His 12-year-old son died in a drowning accident. A couple of months later, he had gone to the grocery store and he picked up a box of Honey Nut Cheerios. All of a sudden he just started sobbing. He said, "Susan, I realized that nobody else in my family likes Honey Nut Cheerios, and I would never be buying another box for my son. I just wanted to leave and go in the car and sob, and sob, and sob." I can't tell you how many times people have told me they leave a full grocery cart because they have a sudden moment of grief. It's really common.
* People will tell me that they have not taken away any of the aftershaves and toothbrushes of their husbands — that they are still on the counter in the bathroom. Some people will actually spray aftershave on their pillow if they want to go to sleep.
* There is something about a smell that is so connecting with a person who has died.
* I encourage people, after someone has died, to take some of their clothes that smell like them, and you can go to Target or Walmart and get these huge bags that look like Ziploc bags for clothes. Put their clothes in there and zip it up and their smell will stay longer.
* I think one of the most important things is to never place judgment on yourself for what your feelings are. There are so many people that judge: "I should be feeling this. I shouldn't be feeling that." I encourage people not to "should" and "shouldn't" themselves. There's no right way or wrong way to do this.
* When people are going into a depressive stage, encourage them to keep talking. Do things that are life-giving to them. Find a way each day to do something that is kind and gentle for yourself. It might be loving on your kids, or being with your critters, or taking a walk outside.
* Stay in the moment. And take things one day at a time. For some people, they can't. For some people, they need to go see their physician and talk to them about the possibility of some medication. The serotonin may be so low in their brain that no matter what they try it's not going bring them out of feeling so depressed (without medical help).
* There is a term called "continuing bonds." Continuing bonds is a way to stay connected with the person who died. It may be for some people this Christmas season they are making Christmas cookies because Mamaw always made Christmas cookies. So, that's a "continuing bond" to always stay close to Mamaw.
* One of the things I really, really encourage: When you're talking to someone who is grieving a loved one, use that person's name. Say, "So, tell me about Ralph." Or, "Tell me about Mildred." That goes such a long way.
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