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AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR GRIEF & BEREAVEMENT 2018 CONFERENCE

In 2017, ACCA commenced a relationship with the Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement (ACGB), with common goals of aspiring to further educate cemeteries and related sectors in the important area of grief and bereavement.

ACCA members, and indeed the broader cemeteries and crematoria industry, have daily interaction with bereaved families who are struggling to make important decisions at an obviously difficult time in their lives. For our staff to be able to best assist these families, we need to have a strong understanding of grief and how it impacts the bereaved. Generally speaking we are not grief counsellors; this is a specialist area occupied by trained professionals. We are, however, engaging with the bereaved on a daily basis, via face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, contractual agreements, and coordinating burials and cremations with visiting funeral directors.

We are always in an environment surrounded by grief and bereavement, so we need to understand it as well as possible.

During 2018, ACCA facilitated the first two of a series of webinars: Part 1: An Introduction to Grief, and Part 2: Self-Care for Your Employees. These two webinars were designed to provide participants with a basic understanding of grief and some of the key ways it impacts the bereaved. In 2019, we will be expanding on these themes and further investigating grief and how it affects the bereaved and their decisions around memorialisation.

The Australian Grief & Bereavement Conference held in Manly in August this year was designed to provide an opportunity for delegates to learn from leading researchers and practitioners by engaging in interactive workshops and attending world-class keynote lectures and exciting symposia, and networking with key representatives from all areas of grief and bereavement care in Australia and New Zealand.

With a focus on emerging trends in grief and bereavement care, the conference was a fantastic gathering of industry professionals from palliative care, social workers, counselling, psychology, medical and nursing, government, cemeteries and funerals, and pastoral care representatives, all sharing their knowledge and passion for their work.Professional speakers Dr Donna Schuurman, Dr Wendy Lichtenthal, Professor Birgit Wagner, Professor Joan Beaumont and Professor Richard A. Bryant all delivered excellent presentations and workshops on their respective field of expertise.

The First World War was a turning point in the cultural history of death and bereavement in Australia and, as 2018 marked 100 years since the conclusion of these hostilities, the conference explored the impact of this event on Australian responses to death and grief, both at that time and over the past century.

There were also discussions on the use of internet technologies in order to provide bereavement care, and also a focus on bereavement and its complications, referencing the conceptualisation and treatment of complicated grief.

Full-day workshops were presented by Dr Donna Schuurman, covering Child and Adolescent Bereavement, and Dr Wendy Lichtenthal on Bereavement Support and Palliative Care.

As the cemeteries and crematoria sector increases its engagement with their respective Compassionate Communities, learnings such as these become even more important for our organisations and staff to understand. I personally noted a number of new ideas and interesting facts from this conference and thought I would share a few of them with you:

  • I learned that Indigenous Australians grieve as much as possible after a death occurs, and then do not speak of that deceased person again. This is so their loved one's spirit is able to reach its destination as soon as possible. If the grieving person cannot stop speaking of the deceased, then they are sometimes knocked on the head with a particular type of rock to get them to let the spirit go! And the deceased should not be referred to by their name. Rather, references such as 'that poor old fella', or 'our poor brother' are used.
  • I also learned that we humans are fond of dichotomies. For example, good/bad, happy/sad, etc. In grief, dichotomies break down. Grief often feels like a mixed-up set of positives and negatives, rarely presenting themselves individually. That's why we often find grieving so difficult.
  • Children and grief. It was a commonly held view by many professional presenters and delegates at the conference that these days, children definitely want to be included in the conversation around a loss. They want to be included in the ritual or ceremony for the loved one, and we as support providers need to help families in whatever way we can to facilitate this.

Overall the conference was very informative. The environment was supportive and inclusive, with all delegates attending with the purpose of learning and becoming more connected across the different service providers. Congratulations to Christopher Hall and his team at the ACGB for a fantastic job. I look forward to working together with you again throughout 2019 as we develop further education opportunities for the cemeteries and crematoria industry in the important areas of grief and bereavement.

Chris Harrington
Chief Executive Officer
Australasian Cemeteries & Crematoria Association (ACCA)

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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

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