Grief healing workshops on tour in diocese

By MaureenSmith
JACKSON – The Office of Family Ministry has partnered with the Health Ministry office to take sculptor and grief counselor Bob Willis on something of a tour of the diocese. Willis will lead his unique grief workshop in five cities in March, Brookhaven, Vicksburg, Clarksdale, Tupelo and Meridian.022015grief01
Each stop will include a daytime training session from 8:15 a.m. to noon for health professionals and an evening session around 6 or 6:30 p.m. for anyone who may feel the need. Check with the individual parish for exact times. The office is working to make continuing education credits available for the professionals.
“Adapting to change, grief and loss training,” as the workshop is called, will include a look at different forms of grief, theories of how grief progresses, a look at normal responses to grief, a guide to ways to express feelings of loss and will identify and develop referral and community resources.
Willis has a unique presentation style. In addition to presenting the latest research and academics, he sculpts while he speaks. The sculptures, sometimes a broken heart and sometimes a bust of Christ wearing a crown of thorns, help illustrate many of the points he makes.
Willis came to the diocese in 2014 to present at Jackson St. Richard Parish as well as in Brookhaven, where several Faith Community Nurses serve at St. Francis Parish. Cheri Walker is one of those nurses. She said Willis’ presentation was particularly timely. A pair of hospital employees had recently lost family members and the staff had cared for several infants with chronic illnesses.
“We are caregivers in a hospital setting and sometimes we get a bit overwhelmed,” said Walker. She said she learned many useful things from the workshop. One of Willis’ suggestions is to ask a grieving person how he or she met the loved one they lost. “This opens up positive memories, early memories of the love you had. This helps take away the anguish and I think that’s a real gift,” said Walker.
It is important to note that death is not the only form of grief addressed in the workshops. “This is applicable to any major life changes. A child leaving home can cause grief, or a divorce. This is not just about death,” she said.
Willis emphasizes that adjusting to any big change in life can make us feel a sense of loss and stress and this can trigger a grief reaction. He offers strategies for caregivers, grievers and friends to use during times of grief. His work is based in the gospels and he brings scripture and prayer into his workshops as well.
Walker said she learned something every time she saw Willis present and encourages everyone who is a caregiver or feeling some kind of loss or grief to attend.
See the sidebar for dates and locations and registration information.

Conference features health partnerships, art

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Bob Willis’ hands started shaping and carving a lump of clay as be began a 45-minute talk to a group of nurses and health care workers and they never stopped. Willis was just one of the presenters at a day-long workshop organized by the Diocese of Jackson’s Office of Health Ministry. Other presentations focused on healthcare partnerships and faith-based healthcare groups.

Caregivers and healthcare professionals packed Foley Hall at St. Richard Parish for a one-day nursing workshop sponsored by Catholic Charities’ Office of Health Ministry.

Caregivers and healthcare professionals packed Foley Hall at St. Richard Parish for a one-day nursing workshop sponsored by Catholic Charities’ Office of Health Ministry.

More than 60 attended the event, held at  St. Richard Parish Thursday, March 6. Willis, a sculptor from Oklahoma who works in hospice ministries, was speaking on grief and caregivers. He spoke about how nurses, as caregivers, deal with lots of grief. All people grieve change, he explained, and often those in a hospital or hospice situation need help with that grief.

His presentation was aimed at giving caregivers some tools to use in their ministry. One of his strategies is to honor the relationship between the caregiver and the one needing care. He suggested asking about the relationship to get the caregiver talking. “I tell them to think about what they would say if they could speak to the person again. What would you thank them for? What happy memories do you have? For what would you forgive them,” he said.

Forgiveness, he explained, is a big part of the grief and mourning process. “In grief work, forgiveness is giving up the hope of a different yesterday,” he said. People can’t change what happened in the past, but they can let go of old hurts. “When you don’t forgive it’s like a big heavy coat – and it stinks,” he said. The longer a person ‘wears’ the coat and the more anger and other emotions they pick up the heavier it gets. When a person forgives, they can lay down that burden. “Sometimes forgiveness is for things you did not hear,” he added, explaining that people sometimes wanted to hear ‘I love you’ or some similar sentiment from a loved one, but never did.

Sculptor and grief counselor Bob Willis carves a broken heart while he speaks about grief among caregivers (Photos by Maureen Smith)

Sculptor and grief counselor Bob Willis carves a broken heart while he speaks about grief among caregivers (Photos by Maureen Smith)

As he spoke, he shaped a heart with a fissure cut through it out of the clay. He said that grief expressed is mourning and explained that organizing and expressing grief will help people heal. The last part of his sculpture is adding stitches and a bandage to the fissure in the heart. He uses this symbol to speak to those who are caregivers or those who work with them. He said in his work in hospice he learned that “bandages don’t heal things, they just hold things together while you heal. You can’t fix a griever, but you can be a bandage – holding them together while they heal,” he said.

Prior to his presentation different community nursing representatives, including groups from Magee St. Stephen and Brookhaven St. Francis of Assisi presented information about their collaborative efforts. The gathering was organized by the Parish Health Ministries Office, headed by Ann Elizabeth Kaiser. Nurses who attended were able to earn continuing education credits.

The following day, Willis led a workshop for caregivers in Natchez at the St. Mary’s Basilica Family Life Center and Monday, March 10 he met with the grief and loss group from the parish.

Caregivers invited to grief and healing conference

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

Bob Willis

Bob Willis

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