A hospice chaplain considers Valentine's Day
February 1, 2022 | View PDF
Bianca Rauch has been a hospice chaplain in Anchorage for many years. In this interview she talks about Valentine's Day, the loss of loved ones, grief and remembering.
Valentine's Day is coming up. This is an especially difficult day, I assume, for those grieving for a loved one. What do you tell them?
Chaplain Rauch: Valentine's Day is just one event, one day that may be difficult among many. There are many firsts, especially in the first year after you lose someone. There's an anniversary if you were married or even divorced, birthdays, any of the holidays. Maybe you went to Arizona every winter. Now you won't feel like doing that because your significant other isn't there to do it with you. There are a lot of firsts that make you feel, "Yeah, I think I got punched."
We, the hospices in Anchorage, for many years have run an event right before Thanksgiving called "Navigating the Holidays." The point of that is to help people come up with some ideas to think outside the box for any holiday, including Valentine's Day, to make plans to celebrate it – maybe quietly, maybe you want to go out with a friend and remember that person, maybe you write that person a Valentine's Day card and burn it to send it to the heavens or whatever. Maybe send it down a river – you can't do that in the middle of winter here – but there are any number of ways to remember and honor that person.
The other thing I'd add is to know that grief is the normal response to loss, whether it is a death or a divorce, or a move. I've lost objects, inanimate objects, that I grieved over because they were special. It's because of what they represented more than anything, but that is the normal response to loss, the human response to loss.
This is normal. When you feel crazy, you're not out of whack, you're not abnormal. Know that the best thing you could do is find somebody who will listen. And that could certainly be calling any of the hospices – the bereavement folk or chaplain – and saying, "I just need somebody to listen." Whether you've been connected to a family member on hospice or not, we will listen, we will happily support you. And it's free. It's not a matter of paying money for such support.
Your job must be terribly stressful. How do you get through it day after day?
I get lots of smiles. I find sometimes people who are dying to be the funniest people on earth, and it's not just what we'd call "dark humor." They just sort of [feel], "Here we are," and they just have to laugh to make sense of it. They tell jokes. I'm not saying everybody does that, but humor is not very far from the surface for families [of] the person dying. Often, I remember for instance, when I was working in the hospital, I would get called in the middle of the night for somebody who had died, and the family was coming in so I'd meet them at the room. And they would cry for a while. I wanted to ask some questions, "How [did they get] to get to Alaska? Tell me about them. What did they like to do? What was their favorite thing?" The families will start telling stories about this person who is now a dead body in the middle of the room. And inevitably I felt my job was done when they started coming out with the jokes, the bad puns, the stupid things they remembered this person doing. It was my job to give them permission to remember those things. To say, "Yeah, it's okay to laugh. He'd be laughing with you if he were alive."
Do you have any references you would like to recommend for people who want to explore these ideas further?
There is a wonderful series of books by Alan Wolfelt, and you can look at them at http://www.Centerforloss.com. Any of his books are great, but he has a series called The 100 Ideas Series -- 100 ways to heal [for example] your traumatized heart, or your grieving heart, or your teenage grief, or a parent's grieving heart. There are ideas for taking care of yourself, and also honoring the memory of the person that you are missing. I like those books a lot.
Contact Chaplain Rauch at her new position beginning February at Ancora Home Health and Hospice, 907-561-0700, or https://ancoraalaska.com.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.