ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
Few events have a more profound effect on a person than the death of a loved one. The loss can be like an overpowering wave that knocks you down, or it can be a like a gentle wave that leaves you standing as it flows around you. Bowen family systems theory suggests that this variation in the grief response is connected to the ability of individuals and families to manage the interdependency within their relationship system. Bowen’s concept of the family as an emotional unit illuminates how a death affects the family equilibrium and can result in a shock wave of reactivity across the generations. A family’s ability to adapt to loss is influenced by the capacity of the system to be resilient. Understanding how our lives are interconnected with those closest to us provides an opportunity to better manage our emotional reactions and to adapt to the process of loss. The inevitability of dying does not lessen the difficulty of discussing our own death and the death of our loved ones. This conference will examine ways to become more knowledgeable and thoughtful about grieving and dying by placing it within the context of the family system and other systems in nature.
Welcome and Introduction
Perspectives on Grief: From Individual to Family Systems
Anne S. McKnight, MSW, EdD
This presentation summarizes the origins of Western thought on the stages of grief and the importance of grief work, the new science of bereavement based on resilience and the evidence of grief in other species. These individual viewpoints on grief are a different paradigm than a family systems view that death shifts the equilibrium of interdependence in a family, generating anxiety that results in symptoms or allowing family members new opportunities to step forward.
Planning for Death with Family and Church Community
Priscilla J. Friesen, MSW
This presentation describes a family leader engaging the family in an ongoing exchange about his end of life plans. More openness around death suggests a more flexible family adaptation to the death.
Bowen Theory in the Aftermath of the Suicide of a Family Member
Anthony Wilgus, MA, MSW
This presentation will describe how a way of thinking rooted in Bowen theory guides the way of being for a man whose relative abruptly committed suicide in the wake of some major life shifts. Thoughtfulness emanating from this stance can assist others to function with a little more clarity and planfulness, addressing the numerous pragmatic decisions that demand attention.
Reactivity to Death in the Family: Ritual and the Effort to Define Self
Peter Titelman, PhD
This presentation describes the importance of rituals in response to death and the presenter’s efforts to define self in creating and participating in family rituals in the face of family reactivity in dealing with death.
Thank You Uncle T: A Family Systems Approach to Death
Kathleen K. Wiseman, MBA
Preparing for the end of one’s life can mean many things. In this case, involving extended family in the financial, physical, and emotional care of an uncle provided benefits long after the funeral.
Resilience and Identity Continuity vs. Disruption after Death and Loss
Anthony Papa, PhD
This presentation will examine research regarding the link between identity maintenance and symptom severity after a loss, and then review the implications for theories of resilience/risk after bereavement as well as for treatment.
The Family System and Trajectories of Loss and Resilience
Laura Havstad, PhD
The family system has a significant impact on the variation between individuals in how much they struggle following the death of significant others. Important variables may include relationship patterns between family members and how the family system shifts in response to the loss.
Adapting to a Death in the Family
Daniel V. Papero, PhD, MSSW
Death and loss are among the most important nodal points in the life of a family. Families vary in their ability to adjust to death and loss. The difficulty for individuals within the family depends on their position in the emotional patterns of their family system. Relationship variables also determine the potential for a family shock wave following a death, when the impact of loss reverberates throughout the system, potentially affecting the family over succeeding generations.
Welcome and Recap
Death and Dying, Differentiation, and Pastoral Care
Carol Jeunnette, MDiv, PhD
For many clergy, the invitation to accompany families during the process of dying, death, and ongoing life is one of the gifts of pastoral ministry. “Differentiation of self as pastoral care” during this process is considered and illustrated through a description of one pastor’s six-year walk alongside a four-generation family as it experienced the dying and deaths of the great grandmother, her 62-year-old son and his 24-year-old son.
The Hour of Our Death
David S. Hargrove, PhD
Approaching one’s own death in an adaptive manner is among the greatest challenges of life. The familiar variables of anxiety in the family and the levels of functioning offer guidance in managing one’s self in this process.
Emerging Funeral Practices and Emotional Process
Katherine Long, MDiv, DMin
Emerging customs surrounding death in the United States represent an anomaly in the history of the human species. Since newer practices do not appear to serve the best interests of families and a return to previous practices seems unlikely, how might families and those who assist them work within this changing landscape to “bury the dead at the time of death?”
Unresolved Emotional Attachment
Selden Dunbar Illick, MSW
Few human events provide as much emotional impact as serious illness and death in resolving unresolved emotional attachments.” (Bowen 1978) This presentation is about one person’s efforts to continue resolving the unresolved in the face of her parents’ deaths.
Being Present and Accounted For
Sydney K. Reed, MSW
Murray Bowen suggested that being “present and accounted for” in one’s family provides the opportunity to make choices to function in a manner that would benefit the family as well as self. This presentation contrasts the funerals of her grandmothers, one at which she was present and one at which she was not.
The Impact of Illness and Death: One Family Story
Kenton Derstine, DMin
This presentation will offer an account of a family in which the projection process intensified by religious values and practices appears to have contributed to the intensification of an emotional shock wave. Observations will be made regarding reactions of various children to a father’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, his recovery, and subsequent death from a heart attack ten years later.
Presentation of the Caskie Research Award
Grief and Love in the Animal World: An Evolutionary Perspective
Barbara J. King, PhD
Animals ranging from great apes and elephants to our dog and cat companions may express profound emotions, including grief and love. This presentation will describe the latest evidence in a comparative perspective with what anthropologists know of human mourning and resilience.
When AIDS Comes to Visit, Watch the Family Flexibility
Andrea M. Schara, LICSW
In the 1980s, individuals diagnosed HIV positive were given 18 months to live once their T cells went below 400. People in a pilot program using biofeedback and coaching to manage self and reconnect with family members reported higher levels of circulating T cells. Family members who had been distant became symptomatic. The family unit itself may have adaptive ways of managing anxiety during times of threat.
Death and Differentiation of Self
Randall T. Frost, MDiv
This presentation will specify some of the key variables around which families differ in functioning during the period prior to and following the death of an important member of the family. Defining these differences may contribute to the effort to evaluate basic level of differentiation more precisely.