Open to Hope recently spoke with Chuck Overton, a Spiritual Director at Caris Healthcare in Knoxville, Tennessee. As a chaplain, Overton has worked closely with grieving families as they learn to navigate life after losing a loved one. One of the biggest hurdles, Overton explains, is “their experience with feeling abandoned.” This can include by God, their spiritual community and of course the loved one who passed.
It’s common to feel isolated from even a well-established spiritual community, whether it’s by their pastor or their close “church friends”—and this abandonment could have threads of truth or not. It’s common for a spiritual community to come together when a member loses a loved one, but it can seem like that support fades away (after all, time heals all wounds, right?). “My first approach is just really get to know them,” Overton says. Sometimes a simple, “Tell me about yourself” can be all it takes to show someone they’re not alone.
A Journey Together
Even though Overton approaches people without bringing up spiritual connections himself, he says that’s usually where the conversations go and he’s not the one leading them there. Plus, Overton says one of the best things he (or anyone) can do is just to let people know he’s available. Listening, especially active listening, is priceless. He recalls many instances when he was told someone didn’t like their pastor because they gave canned responses—however, many pastors don’t deal with death on a very regular basis (surprisingly).
Now, as a hospice chaplain and bereavement specialist, that’s all Overton does. “I deal with death every day,” he says. This has allowed him to listen on “a different level,” and that might be just what grieving families need. He recommends reaching out to a spiritual director during these tough times, starting with the chaplain at the hospice (if applicable). Otherwise, ask around for word of mouth recommendations. Most chaplains are available to anybody in the community—and offer an approach that might be more suited to bereavement counseling.