Any therapist or proper Google search will tell you that grief, in its many stages, can be a healthy, albeit heart-wrenching, process.
But Americans are turning their backs on it.
At the turn of the 19th century, someone who lost a loved one might place a wreath on his or her door, wear black dress for a year or more, and host neighbors who came to call with condolences. Today, that same person is more likely to be pushed immediately toward a new person or activity to help cope.
Kathy Sparnins, a local grief educator and facilitator of bereavement groups in hospice care, remembers working with one 30-something couple whose son had died of leukemia. And while they wanted to commemorate significant events in their son's life (birthdays, Christmas, etc.), the child's grandparents advised against it — the pain was just too much.
"Cultural norms encourage people to 'get over it and move on,'" Sparnins says. "We are moving too fast, trying to be productive."
Perhaps more sadly, she says a lack of concern produces a lack of compassion. Referencing Dr. Alan Wolfelt's analysis of a study that shows 71 percent of people in the country don't know their neighbors, she states that "communities have changed. At this stage we are very disconnected from community."
To further explore and explain how our changing cultural landscape has negatively impacted the bereaved, the 67-year-old Sparnins has become executive director and co-producer of Voices of Grief, a nonprofit documentary project. She and her co-producers have traveled the country with filmmaker Deborah Collins to speak with experts in the field, such as Wolfelt, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Stephen and Ondrea Levine, and Dr. Kenneth Doka. Kathryn Eastburn, an Independent co-founder and former editor, as well as an author and commentator on 91.5 KRCC-FM, is working on the screenplay.
As the website (voicesofgrief.org) explains, the goal is to distribute the documentary, targeted for completion in Summer 2014, to "training facilities, hospice, hospitals, funeral homes, pastoral counseling centers, churches and ultimately public broadcasting." Sparnins also hopes to submit it to the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival.
Holding her thumb and forefinger close, she refers to her project as "one small piece to change culture by just this much."
To help raise money for the project, Sparnins and the Voices staff will present two events this weekend, both with noted singer Melanie DeMore — who's performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, as well as at the bedsides of those "in transition," per her website. On June 7, DeMore will lead a community "sing," and the following day will perform with the Colorado Springs Children's Chorale and the Pikes Peak Threshold Singers, with food and drink from Swiss Chalet.
The power of song itself can be transformative, Sparnins says, and can lead people through a very soulful journey of grief.