Could the peaceful ambiance of a cemetery hold the key to navigating grief?
This week, we interview Julia Ellifritt, the Education Director at Cornerstone of Hope. With nearly four decades of experience as a grief counselor, she shares her invaluable insights into the healing power of cemeteries and their profound impact on the grieving process. Julia also discusses the changes the pandemic brought about, particularly the potential negative consequences of not being able to say goodbye to loved ones.
Tune in for an enlightening discussion and deepen your understanding of the grieving process and the comforting role of cemeteries in facilitating healing.
Click here to watch the video that Julia spoke about in this podcast!
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music. Hello everyone and welcome back to CC Airwaves. My name is Paige Mattello and I am here with my co-host, joel Hansel, and our guest Julia Elefrent, who is the Education Director at Cornerstone of Hope. How are you guys doing today?Speaker 2:
Even though it's raining, I'm having a good morning, it's good.Speaker 1:
What about you, joel?Speaker 3:
I have no idea, it's raining.Speaker 1:
Joel's currently in our podcast studio, which is in our basement at our main office at Calvary, so he's kind of cut off from the world right now.Speaker 2:
Okay, well, we have 85, we have a grief camp going on this week, so we have 85 grieving kids here for camp all day, and so fingers crossed that the rain stops, because they're supposed to go to the zoo this afternoon, so I'm hoping that the weather gets better.Speaker 1:
Yeah, I love the zoo. I was just there Sunday, really. Yes, I actually used to work in a summer camp too, and the kids loved going to the zoo, so I really hope that they have the chance to go this afternoon. Yes, we do, we do so for our listeners. Today we will be discussing the role of cemeteries and in grieving and in healing. So, julia, why don't you start off by just telling our audience a little bit about yourself?Speaker 2:
Sure, so I work at. Currently I work at Cornerstone of Hope, which is a bereavement center in Independence. We serve hundreds of clients every week that have had a loss due to death. So there's all kinds of loss and divorce, things like that, but we really work with people when somebody has died. I personally have been a grief counselor for 38 years. This is the only thing I've ever done. I did hospice for 20 years before coming to Cornerstone. So I've been in every funeral home and every cemetery in Northeast Ohio in my tenure of working with families who've had a loss, and so it's very much a passion of mine to support people through that healing process of grief. Grief is a game changer, as you guys know. For anybody who's lost somebody, life's never gonna be the same again. It'll be good again, it could be whole again, but it's never gonna be the same. And I think probably what we're gonna talk about this morning is how we can use that connecting with our person at the cemetery to move us forward. Not moving on, we never move on. We move forward in our grief at how we do that. So it can be. This is an exciting topic.Speaker 1:
So what made you decide to go to Cornerstone of Hope?Speaker 2:
Um, they so again, I had had 20 some years in the bereavement field in Cleveland working to bereavement in hospice and I just loves the vision. So they were a brand new organization founded by Mark and Chrissy Tripodi who unfortunately lost their three year old son, and so they had, you know, tried counseling and it was expensive, they could afford. They tried groups and they didn't meet often enough. And so they just kind of said, when we are through our grief process, we want to build an organization. That was what we needed. That wasn't available. So we're one of probably just a handful across the country of free standing bereavement centers not affiliated with any hospital, any particular organization, so we take referrals from everywhere. And so it was just. I just loves their vision of what they were trying to create and again, grief is such a passion of mine that just kind of made sense that I come here.Speaker 3:
So you've been there from the start.Speaker 2:
One year in. So the we're 20 years old. Yeah, I was the first clinical hire. I'm a social worker by training. The first hire was a receptionist to be. We basically answer the phone in the tripodis basement when we started calling for services and then we eventually were in a rented space. And then, five years in, is an organization. We built the facility we're currently. We built a $3 million state of the art bereavement center and then we are now in a capital campaign to adding a $5 million addition on because we're bursting at the seams, which is sad that you know, but this has a great need, especially with all of the trauma that we're seeing suicide, homicide, excellent overdose those numbers are just kind of going through the roof. So we're going to be adding a huge addition on to the facility. Yeah, but I've been there almost since the very beginning. I also teach the grief and loss courses at case in their social work school at MSS, and so I've done that for about 10 years as well.Speaker 1:
That's really great. You know, we actually had a mark and Kristy Chappody on the podcast a couple months ago. Yeah, the loss of their son and they were on our inspiring stories of healing and hope series.Speaker 2:
Yes, yeah, they're an amazing couple.Speaker 1:
So let's move on to kind of what we're here to talk about today. So how do you believe that cemeteries play a crucial role in the grieving process?Speaker 2:
Let me, can I just kind of back up one step and just say I think that COVID, over the last few years, has messed up this process with funerals and cemeteries, and we see the effects of that now. Because what we know that for you to get through the grief process in a healthy manner, two things have to happen. You have to have be able to say goodbye to your person who died. We took that away for a couple years because you couldn't go into a hospital, even if your person didn't have COVID. They had a heart disease but they were dying, you couldn't go visit them. And then the second thing that we need to have happen for everybody to have a healthy bereavement process is to have a funeral and a cemetery visit, to be able to gather with your friends, say you know, we're going to, we're going to support you, you're going to get through this, to feel that connection to the community. And we do that at a funeral home. And then we all travel to the cemetery together, we stand around, we have a certain that that kicks off the grief process. We eliminated that as well. So what we're seeing now is the effect of that. You know, we, I think the physical piece of the pandemic is under control. I'm not saying this completely over, but it's not what it was in 2019. But the emotional way that's coming behind the mental health wave of people feeling isolated and depressed, it's huge right now. But I would also say we're now like doing funerals with people just in the counseling office talking about, okay, how would you want to do? Because they would, they didn't need to do it, so it's a mess of grief. So, having said all that, cemeteries are such an important piece of the process. I think it makes us feel very connected to our person that we lost To include them in holidays. We have brides, excuse me, that will, after the wedding ceremony, go in there their wedding outfit with the groom and they go visit the cemetery and visit grandma or whoever they lost To include them in that wedding day, that wedding ceremony. When we can do that, oh my gosh, we get through the process of, I think, so much better Versus like, okay, grandma couldn't be here and I'm sad, no, grandma can't be here in the same way that we wanted, but let's go, or let's go see dad in a cemetery. So we're seeing that people are including them in holidays and family traditions. People, as you know, will go and take their lawn chairs. Okay, we're having our fourth of July barbecue, because we're including dad in the barbecue. I think it connects us to people that we've lost and we really want that connection. Oh my gosh, we want that connection. So sitting at a grave side does that for them. Yeah, that's beautiful, right. I think it also connects us to history, like I remember growing up we would go every Sunday to the cemetery and visit my grandparents graves and that was just and they died before I know them kind of thing, but we would go because it was just that connection of no, these are important people in our family and we still include them, even though they're not physically present here on earth. So I think it connects us to our history as well and I think it's just a great time to reminisce with family. You know, it's one thing I would say symbols help us connect to emotion, right? So I could say, paige, could you please recite the Pledge of Allegiance to us? And you could probably do that, right? But if I had a military honor guard looking at you with a full military uniform and a flag, oh my gosh, you could say the pledge so much better, right Because we engage our emotion when there's a symbol. A headstone is a symbol right, and so to sit there and talk to whoever was that you lost, with the symbol with their name on it, there's a way of connecting emotionally in a different way than me sitting in my living room at home and reminiscing and talking. Does that make sense? So those symbols help us connect to emotion and that's, I think, one of the beauties of that of the cemetery. I think also the history, like the late peace cemetery. People go just to look through all the old presidents that are buried there. I mean, there's a, you know, it really does document our history cemeteries.Speaker 1:
do I really like what you said about the symbol. I feel like that made a lot of sense and I'm actually going to share that with our director of cemeteries because I feel like he would love that.Speaker 2:
It connects us, you know, connects us to emotion.Speaker 1:
In what ways do cemeteries provide a sense of comfort and solace for those who have experienced loss?Speaker 2:
You know, depending on people's beliefs. Some people believe like they're persons in heaven. I believe that I'm assuming you guys believe that Some people believe in reincarnation. It doesn't matter if people believe. There's still something about going to the cemetery. So even if you know, like my person's not here, my person's in heaven, the body's here and there's just something about. Is there something about just being with family and when family members pass on their letting them, there's just still something about connecting. That happens in a different way than again. We can be sitting at home on Thanksgiving and thinking, gosh, grandpa should have been here to carve the turkey, because that's what we always did every year and we can miss him. But, man, we all go to the cemetery with our pie after you know the meal. It just it connects us on a different level. It really does, and it's for our benefit. It's not for doesn't do anything for the person lying in the grave. It's for our benefit as a griever, to feel connected to the person that we lost, and it just seems to be just a more tangible way of doing it.Speaker 1:
Can you discuss any cultural or religious practices related to cemeteries contributing to the grieving process?Speaker 2:
Sure. So what we know about culture is, if we are allowed to process in the way that our cultures accepts, we get through the process better than if we're doing something different. So, for example, there are a lot of Eastern European cultures that are very stoic, you know, and they, at the head of a casket, aren't shedding a lot of tears, and if you sense of them, mrs Smith, you need to cry and then you'll feel so much better, like you just messed up her grief because that's not how they do it right. And then there's, you know, some Latino cultures that are very demonstrative. They wail and cry. They're their body on a casket. If you said to them you need to sit quietly and respectfully in the front row, you just messed up their grief right. So what we know about funerals in grief is, if we can do what our culture says is appropriate, we get through the process better. So I always say in the culture that I belong to how we mourn it was. We go to the funeral home for two to four and seven to nine. We go back the next day and put a purple flag on our car, we drive and align to the cemetery, we get out, we stand around the grave site. We watch the grave being lowered. Sometimes they throw some dirt on it. We throw, we have some words said, we go back to the church and have lunch. So that's how it happens. But if you can do again what your culture says is important. Some cultures, really, you know, you know Muslim cultures believe in buried right away, and in certain cemeteries and certain cemeteries your the body has to be faced a certain direction for religious beliefs. Sometimes they have to be buried right away for religious beliefs and sometimes in the Jewish culture they like to be kind of on the ground and so they have caskets where you can take the body and put it on the grave, so they actually kind of touch on the ground a little bit. So those are the kind of things that if we can incorporate that into the grieving process, yeah, that's golden, that's you're, you're getting the process because you're honoring your person in the way that their culture described it. And I would say that goes along with cremation too. You know some cultures believe strongly in cremation, some absolutely against cremation, and so in some cemeteries you may have, you know, a lot of urns that are buried, or in a Muslim, and others you might not, because depending on what their religious beliefs are. But again, the main thing is isn't is one practice right or wrong? That's not the issue. The issue is are you doing what in your culture is acceptable? Because if you are, you get through the process better. That makes sense.Speaker 3:
Makes a lot of sense.Speaker 2:
That makes sense yeah.Speaker 1:
It's interesting that you mentioned cremation, because I actually just wrote a blog post about how the stance on cremation has changed within the Catholic Church over, you know, many years. So I think that those stances have modified over time too.Speaker 3:
To me. What's also interesting Paige, you wrote the blog post about cremation and, julia, you talked about what our culture says is normal. In my family, my father-in-law passed away in December and he was cremated but we didn't have the funeral and the burial until May and it was really kind of interesting because we're dealing more with a blended family that was much older and a big majority of the family that probably isn't practicing anything right, but my father-in-law and my mother-in-law they were Catholic. My wife was raised Catholic, were Catholic, and I know that when my mother-in-law was trying to was sitting with the funeral director and talking about how she wanted to proceed, she couldn't quite come up with the words that they really explain and she just kept saying I know Gene wanted to have a mass and I said perfect, then we'll have a mass. Right, because you're right, julia, that is what we do. Granted, it took four months later when we could get people together, but we had the mass, we went to the cemetery, we had the honor guard there and we got through this whole day and I think it gave my wife some closure, I know it gave some other family members closure and just that whole ritual was really, really important, I think, for everybody that ended up being there.Speaker 2:
Yeah, I think what's hard now? I think 100 years ago everybody lived in extended families in the same community and then people started moving and so you can't go visit grandma's grave every Sunday because I live in California now and my grandma's buried in Ohio. I think we're seeing a lot of that. It makes it difficult. So I know when my dad died a few years ago, my brother was in Kazakhstan working at the time and so you couldn't have a funeral right away and so we had to delay it. A couple, he says he had to get back into the country and get things done. I think that I wonder how that affects people's grief. When we can't have that closure right away, we have to delay it for whatever reason, and I think COVID did that as well. When sometimes we have somebody cremated, then we say, ok, we're going to have a mass or we're going to have a ceremony, like three months from now in the summer, when it's easier to travel, and for that three months that family, that's a struggle because that closure, having that funeral and that burial, that's what's important, to kick off the grief process. So we've delayed it a little bit by the fact that we, number one, don't like dealing with death and all this stuff, but then we delay it. There's a funeral home in Saginaw, michigan. It's a drive-thru funeral and they took an old bank and I don't know if you've heard this. As soon as you can Google it. I use it in my class all the time. It's like an old bank, it's no longer a bank. And by the window where you would pull up to the teller and the drive-thru, you say I'm here to see Mr Smith. They wheel the casket over in front of the window so you can view Mr Smith, and then, where they would pass out the money to you or whatever, they pass you the register book so you can sign the past. I back in and then where the night deposits be of a car that you wouldn't leave, the family puts the night up and it up like five minutes and you're done. And I just think how horrible that we can't Take 15 minutes to walk inside if you're home and say I'm sorry, I love you, I'm here for you, to a grieving person, what's wrong with us that we don't want to do that, and I think that you know same thing with some of this would be like we. Just we don't like death, we think that we can avoid it. But we can't and it's. We've made it this about convenience and so instead of saying Monday we're gonna have a funeral once, you all, let's wait and have it on a weekend survey comm us wait and have two weeks. Because we're we just I want that waters down a little bit some of the issues Because we just, we, we, we think that we can get away with not experiencing loss and grief in this culture. And it's not true, because the world statistics on death are still trying to get what 100% like. We're all going to experience loss and if we could just take it and deal with it, as hard as it is, as inconvenient as it is when it happens, I think we just get through the process better.Speaker 1:
But it's really interesting that you bring up coven, because we had a guest on a couple weeks ago who lost her mom during coven and she said that they had the funeral and they were only allowed 10 people and it was such a contrast to what her father had, because her father had this big funeral. Everyone was allowed to come, everyone was allowed to grieve the loss of him, but with this, only 10 people were allowed to be there and be close to the person who had lost someone and it's terrible. How do you pick? How do you pick those?Speaker 2:
Like certainly make the cut. You know it's comes to the funeral. You know that that just puts undue pressure on families. You know we all have Like a great aunt that lived in California that died and you didn't go out to the funeral. She wasn't close. But come Christmas time you're right now your cars and you think, yeah, no way I can't write a card out to her because going to a funeral will just right, it makes it real. I call reality therapy, right. And so when we don't do that, for whatever reason, because of distance or time or money, we don't do that. It messes with our grief and so again we're starting to write. So for those people that may have been very close to members that couldn't because of coven, it affects you, it affects the grief process not being able to participate.Speaker 1:
And our final question for you today, julia, is one piece of advice do you give to those who are grieving? What piece of advice?Speaker 2:
to, I get Wow. Well, the first thing that I tell everybody that I need is it's nice to meet you. I'm sorry I have to, because if I have to meet you here, of course I need you've had a horrific loss. The second thing I tell everybody, though, is that I promise this is survivable, because, in the moment, it doesn't feel that way. Your 13 year old just took their life, and you feel like how could I possibly go on, for you know just the horrific overdoses and things that we see. It just feels like I can't go on, and so this, this thing, I say everybody I promise you will survive. This will be a different person, would be a better version of yourself. You'll never be the same, but you will survive because, again, I think that at some point, we just you have to see the end for people. I have this video that I show that I love. It's called some survival run. You can watch it off YouTube. It's was made in the 70s, so it's like you have to get past the passion, but it's a race. It's a blind man running a race, and the man who's cited kind of guides him through this race, and you know I talk about. Does it cost something to care for people. It does, yeah. So for the sight of man, it costs him. He was never going to win the race running with a blind man, so it costs him that. It costs us something to care for people. But at one point during the film the blind man says can you see the finish? He says, yeah, I can, and I feel like that's what our role is is to help see the finish for people when they can't see it for themselves. So if you're working with somebody with an addiction, your job is to see them sober and clean. If you're working with somebody who has anxiety, your job is to see them being anxiety free. Our job is to do with grievance and be able to see them having worked through their grief and not being as dysfunctional as they are when they come in. That's our job and if we can do that again, that's that's. That's what our job is is to to see the end for people. That's why I say to everybody the advice is that you will survive this, you will. It's going to be hard. It'll take more time than you ever thought possible. You are going to feel things that you never want to feel again, but you will survive it. You, you will get through this and 30 years I've never lost anybody to grief Like you will get through it. But it's a process, you know. And I think just to to tell people to be gracious with themselves, because I would say, if you had a leg cut off, would you madly couldn't run a marathon right away? No, I mean, if a leg cut off, it takes some while to get used to walking with crutches, you know. And then you get a prosthetic leg and now you're like a little bit wobbly again because you're learning to walk, but at some point you're going to wear pants and nobody's going to know you have a fake leg because you're walking so smoothly when you're grieving, you have a big chunk of your heart amputated and it feels awkward. It feels like I don't know if I can make it out, if I could stand up. You get there. You get there. Never be the same, but you get there. We don't move on, we move forward. That's the whole thing as we move forward in our grief.Speaker 1:
That was a really beautiful way of answering that question, Julia Kialteers. Thank you. I would love if you could send me the link to that video you were talking about, because then I would link it into the podcast description for our listeners. Okay so thank you, thank you very much. So once again, thank you, julia, for joining us on CCR Waves and for our listeners. Julia is the Director of Education from the Cornerstone of Hope and you can look in the link below to see the video that she's talking about, and I will link the Cornerstone of Hope website and their social media if you would like to follow anything that they are saying, and we will see you next Thursday for a new episode of CC Air Waves.Speaker 3:
Until then, take care everyone.