By Maureen Smith
NATCHEZ – Bob Willis fell in love with “grievers” when he suffered a devastating loss in his own life. At the time, he was a Baptist minister. His own grief led him to work with others in pain. This, he said, is how his current ministry found him. He went on to work for 17 years in hospice ministry and became a sculptor along the way. He now uses the skills he has developed in both fields for his grief ministry.
Willis is bringing his unique presentation to the Diocese of Jackson for three events. The first, a one-day Faith
Community Nursing event was scheduled March 8 at Jackson St. Richard. Look for coverage of it in the next issue of Mississippi Catholic. The other events are set for Sunday and Monday, March 9-10, in Natchez. Sunday is a conference from 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. at the St. Mary Basilica Family Life Center. Monday he will present to the monthly meeting of the parish grief and loss support group from 6 – 7 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
During Sunday’s conference, called Caregiver stress, coping with change, Willis will carve a bust of Christ while he speaks about the grief involved in being a caregiver. “My goal is to give people some tools to communicate their
feelings,” he explained. He says everyone grieves change, but caregivers are faced with some especially tough changes and their grief can become internalized.
“I want them to know grief is what they are feeling, but no one can see that. It’s inside them. When they express it, it becomes mourning and Christ says ‘blessed are they who mourn.’ I want to help them mourn in healthy ways,” he said. He calls caregivers care-grievers and encourages them to move beyond being isolated in their feelings.
Willis explained that he offers tools to help people organize their feelings and put them into words so they can better communicate what they are feeling and then develop a support system around those feelings. “When we organize our grief, we take control of our grief so it doesn’t control us,” said Willis. This process can help caregivers express their feelings and love with those for whom they are caring and can sometimes even help those who need care better communicate.
He calls his vocation “a God thing,” saying he knew very soon after starting this work that he was where he needed to be. “I did some grief counseling with groups and I felt like it was the right work. I have a comfort level dealing with grief, loss and death. That’s why it’s easier for me to share in this way, I feel that comfort level with it,” he said.
He uses the sculpting because creative expression “feeds” him when he feels drained. He most commonly sculpts the bust of Christ or a bandaged broken heart with the scripture “He heals the brokenhearted, he binds up their wounds,” from Psalm 147.
Ann Elizabeth Kaiser, a Health Ministry Specialist for Catholic Charities, organized both events. She said he saw Willis sculpting while she was attending a conference last year and felt drawn to watch, even though she did not know anything about him or his presentation. She left with 10 copies of his book to give to friends and colleagues. Kaiser said she hears so many health care workers and caretakers talk about how much stress they feel and she knew Willis’ presentation would fill a need.
In addition to his work in hospice, Willis owns the Rocking W art gallery in Oklahoma City and has written a book, “The Ultimate Caregiver,” about his work in grief ministry. His books will be available for purchase at the events. To read more about Willis’ work visit www.godhealshearts.com.