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Local author says we need to think before we speak to those who are grieving

Dee Stern
HSHS St. John's Hospital
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Dr. Dee Stern

Archway Books recently published a book on how to treat the bereaved by a grief counselor and chaplain at HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield.

Dr. Dee Stern’s book is called Comforting the Bereaved Through Listening and Positive Responding: What are the Bereaved Trying to Tell Us?

“I believe we live in a death-denying society and because of that people don't know what to say to someone who has had a death. And so they come up with strange, terrible things to say, which they think are really wonderful, but they're not,’’ said Stern, who also leads group sessions including those for parents who have lost a child and the loved ones of someone who has completed a suicide.

She cited as an example: “Aren't you glad your baby died? Because now you don't have to worry about what it will be like when it gets older.” Another: “Someone came up to a family member … to the mom of this young gentleman … that ended his life and said, ‘We're going to pray for you because your son's been damned to hell.’ Stern said: “The bereaved are trying to say, “Hey, no, that hurts.’’ And then these people who say this, who are very well meaning, walk away and to their homes, and feel like they've really helped the person, but in reality, they really haven't.

“What are the bereaved trying to tell us (is) to think before they speak, think before you speak to somebody who has had a death,’ she said.

Stern said she wrote the book to help those who are grieving. She said she is in the midst of writing another volume.

“I've been doing this for a long time, and the bereaved really don't get a chance to tell their story. And it's in the telling of the story that the healing takes place. If you listen to somebody who's had a death, if you actually listen and take the time to say the person's name who died, then it means so much. And it means they're not forgotten.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and covering the equity beat. Maureen joined the Illinois Issues in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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