When Dr. Janna Henning experienced her own loss, it encouraged her to help others in similar situations heal. Dr. Henning talked with Dr. Heidi Horsley at the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference. Dr. Henning was in a car crash when she was 22, and literally experienced having her best friend die on top of her. Six years later, nearly to the day, she lost her partner in a bike-truck accident. “Having those two losses in my 20s I think really influenced my way of understanding (that) in some way the world doesn’t understand those losses.” When 20-somethings are killed unexpectedly, there needs to be more loss-informed care in psychology.
She notes that she took a long time to begin processing these losses since there was so little support. “I did a lot of reading,” she says, and she was able to find meaning in the existing research. By relying on reflection, she found a strong desire to give back. It’s dubbed “survivor mission” and it’s a need to help others in ways that weren’t available to them.
Searching for Meaning
“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how,” said Nietzsche, and that’s a sentiment that’s shared by many survivors. Finding reason, purpose and meaning is the ticket for many to get through such a trauma. Today, Dr. Henning is helping individuals while also teaching doctoral students to help others in the loss field.
She points out that there are very few doctoral programs steeped in death and dying, and she feels her biggest impact is made with her students. Fortunately, the grief process, death and dying are becoming more commonly discussed, but it’s still a long road ahead—especially in other cultures.