Area programs teach the art of giving comfort
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Area programs teach the art of giving comfort

Reaching out to the mourner

Stacy Lang, Woodcliff Lake resident and clinical social worker, said that – strange as it sounds – she likes to work with those who are dying or have suffered a loss.

“It’s a great privilege” to work with these people, she said, “to move toward them” while others may be moving away.

Lang – a bereavement counselor in private practice and an adjunct professor of social work at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work, where she teaches a class called “Death and Dying: Coping with Loss” – will share her knowledge and insights in two workshops sponsored by the Sisterhood of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley.

During these sessions, to be held March 19 and March 24, the counselor will discuss with attendees “how to feel comfortable performing the important mitzvah of comforting mourners in our community from a Jewish perspective.”

“People don’t like to talk about death,” said Lang, citing euphemisms such as “passing away.” “They get hung up. They don’t know what to say, so they may do nothing.”

In her presentation, she said, she will review the psychological states of mourning and grieving and relate them specifically to Jewish mourning practices. Lang offered a similar presentation last month to the synagogue’s board and will schedule sessions with other groups in the synagogue, such the men’s club and the older grades of the congregation’s Hebrew school.

“It will be a year-long adventure,” she said. “We’re trying to cultivate teams of congregants” who will be familiar with, and comfortable at, situations such as shiva visits.

Addressing issues such as the stages of normal grieving, phases of Jewish bereavement, what to say and how to help, how to write a condolence note and make a shiva call, and when and where to look for professional help, Lang will tell people “who want to do something” that sometimes it’s as easy as making a phone call or saying, “I’m so terribly sorry.”

“You need to be with someone, to be there with them in their pain,” even if you just sit there and say nothing, said Lang. “Being there is huge.”

Lang said she hopes her presentation will give her hearers an understanding of what happens when we grieve and the tools for performing an important mitzvah. She noted that while grief has no timeline, it does change over time, so outreach efforts must change as well.

“During shiva, let the mourner take the lead,” she said. But after six months, one can feel freer to share memories, recalling happy times with the person who died. In addition, while one should not push a new mourner to “get out of the house” and engage in social activities, one might certainly encourage that person to do that after some time has passed.

Finally, she said, in cases where a person is not “moving through the grief, when they get stuck, you might suggest gently that help is needed.”

For additional information about the program, call (201) 391-8089.

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