Saturday, June 16, 2007

‘Keep writing’ – Writing therapy helps women grieve losses through abortion, miscarriage

SINGAPORE (UCAN) – "Keep writing. Don't stop till I tell you to," Sister Una Boland softly urged. Her gentle voice floated through the little hospital chapel where about 30 women had gathered for a special service.

The women were writing letters to children they had lost through miscarriages, stillbirths or abortions. Some of them had carried the pain of their loss for decades.

The "Healing of Silent Memories" service that the Clinical Pastoral Education Department of Mount Alvernia Hospital conducted May 19 aimed to help participants connect with and move beyond the pain and sense of loss.

Sister Boland first asked the women to write about their loss and the associated emotions.

The Little Company of Mary nun then invited each woman to step forward, light a candle in memory of their lost child or children, and write the name or names on a certificate. These acts acknowledge their existence and that they are part of the family, for to name something is to claim it, the Irish Religious explained.

The women were then asked to write a separate letter to each child that had died. Sister Boland told them this was an important part of the healing process, because "unless we learn to say our goodbyes, we will not trust our hellos."

The session was the first in a series aimed at helping people come to terms with different kinds of loss.

Sister Boland is an accredited counselor and psychotherapist, with a master's degree in pastoral training. She did her master's research on bereavement.

While doing clinical pastoral work in Ireland, she encountered a number of women who reported finding no meaning in life. "I would ask them to think back to a time when their life was meaningful," she told UCA News, "and they would say that their life was meaningful up to a certain point in time." When the nun delved deeper, she found that many had experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth, or had an abortion.

In response, she decided to conduct "this kind of group work, which works wonders for them."

Writing is the most therapeutic of three ways of dealing with pain, Sister Boland explained, because one feels less need to censor what one writes, compared to what one tells someone else. The other two ways are talking to a group of people, such as a support group, and talking to a trusted person.

Healing takes place when people are able to express their feelings in a confidential environment, the counselor-nun continued. "We need to be able to name it, claim it and tame it."

Of the women who spoke to Sister Boland after the May 19 service, two-thirds revealed that their losses came through abortions. "They said that they wished they had (the service) years ago," she recounted. "Another woman said, 'Now my two miscarriages are part of the family, and I can tell this to my other child.' A third woman said, 'I feel like a new person.'"

A second healing service will take place on June 23 for those who have lost loved ones through suicide.

"Suicide leaves a skeleton in the closet," according to Sister Boland. "It leaves a lot of unanswered questions, a lot of 'what-ifs.'"

A third memorial service is being planned for October, for people who were given up for adoption and parents who gave up children to be adopted.

Mount Alvernia Hospital was founded and originally run by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood. The congregation has maintained ownership but handed over the management to laypeople.

Sister Boland came to Singapore two years ago to establish the Clinical Pastoral Education Department at Mount Alvernia, the first of its kind in a Singapore hospital. The department provides professional training for pastoral care and counseling work.


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