There is a movie genre commonly referred to as the “four-hankie” film. This trite term is meant to describe films that may have an inspirational and/or sad element. Upon first glance, the title of the session I attended (Working Toward the Good: Engaging Grief, Loss and Family Philanthropy), would suggest that the content would center solely on sadness, but there was a healthy dose of inspiration, candor, respect, tears and tenderness.
The skilled art of leading a discussion about grieving where the emotional pain for some was still raw and filled with a range of emotions from guilt, anger, curiosity, confusion and love, was evident. Carefully led by a psychologist and therapist, the featured speaker began the session by working intentionally to create a close-knit community by re-arranging the physical space to form a circle. She then shared her personal experiences following the death of her parents—her mother’s death after a long-term illness and the sudden and unexpected loss of her father, which had occurred many years prior. She wondered whether these two losses would be summarized as one loss, one hole two losses or two holes?
What she found, however, was that while sadness is part of the grieving process, there were also opportunities for caring, sharing and healing. During the grieving process, there are opportunities to help in profound ways. This includes filling the role of helper, witness and companion.
In addition to the psychological and emotional issues surrounding loss and healing, the session surfaced important concepts such as donor intent, family fractures, honoring legacy, continued alignment with family values and preparing and including the next generation of philanthropists before and after a family loss occurs.
While this was a tender topic, the real life stories were all the more touching because they were not drawn from a screenwriter’s interpretation and inspiration, but from direct life experience.
Renée Branch is director of Diversity and Inclusive Practices at the Council on Foundations.