Category Archives: Grief

Join us for a series of three conversations

Navigating Troubled Waters – Listening to the “Other”




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“Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country.”  —- William Sloan Coffin

Some of us feel like this: “I can’t talk to my friends, my neighbors, my family!  The tension is too much!” At a time in which our country is painfully divided, these are the struggles many in our communities are experiencing. Yet, beneath the tension there is heartbreak.  Across the board, we feel deeply about the values we want to see our country exhibit, but we realize we are more painfully divided on the substance of the “values” than we realized.

So, how do we navigate our emotions, our relationships, our conversations?  The Center would like you to join us for 3 monthly conversations centered around this question.  Rooted in a belief that understanding begins with telling our story and listening to the story of the other we invite you to take seriously what it means to navigate troubled waters with steadiness and integrity.   Please join us here at the Center for these 3 important monthly conversations.

AUDIENCE Open to the public
DATE/TIME April 25, May 16, June 13 / Thursdays  5:30 – 7 p.m.
COST $90 for the series. Refreshments provided.
LOCATION  Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center  / 8553 Urbandale Avenue / Urbandale, IA

Please register by April 18th


FACILITATORS Clinicians from the Center will facilitate the series, including:

  • Amy Spangler-Dunning, M.Div., L.M.H.C., counselor, spiritual director
  • Diane McClanahan, M.Div., B.S.N., Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, spiritual director
  • Douglas Aupperle, Ph.D., licensed psychologist
  • Christine Dietz, Ph.D., L.I.S.W., Training Director, spiritual director
  • Andrea Severson, M.Div., L.M.H.C., counselor, spiritual director

Questions? Please contact

Amy Spangler-Dunning, by email: or telephone: 515-274-4006, x165

Let’s talk about grief

special to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, September 2017

By Billie Wade

Billie Wade, writer

Grief, despite its proliferation in human life, is a taboo subject. We don’t like to see other people hurting, so we ply each other with platitudes of hope. Grief has a bad reputation, at least when it lasts more than a predetermined period. We appear strong as we handle the whirlwind of initial responsibilities. After that, we’re expected to bounce back, buck up, get over it, and get on with our life. Bereaved people are perceived to be in a state of weakness.

Within days of the loss, we are expected to be back in the full swing of life as we begin our adjustment to a “new “normal. Friends and family members no longer stop by or call to check on us or invite us to coffee or dinner. We no longer hear the words, “Let me know if you just need to talk.” They observe, “She’s so strong. Her husband passed away a month ago, she’s returned to work, and she’s looking great!” “Well, you know, his wife was sick for a long time. He’s probably relieved.” “She’s so vibrant and savvy. She’ll have a new job in no time.”

People referring to grief typically are talking about the loss of a loved one, but grief encompasses so much more. Other losses may be just as devastating, and wreak as much havoc in our lives. Grief can happen in minute quantities that we may not notice consciously. Some losses may be almost imperceptible and bind to existing losses, forming a tangled ball of grief. I grieved the loss of my auburn-brown hair as it gave way to mixed gray, which in reality was the grieving of the loss of my youth and an acknowledgment of years of hard experiences and choices.

Grief in everyday life can’t be overlooked or de-emphasized, but it can be over-simplified. Various “experts” have laid out identifiable phases of grief: shock, numbness, denial, bargaining, anger, depression, sadness, and acceptance, characterized by a host of predictable and observable signs and symptoms. Cut-and-dried stages, while useful for research and treatment protocols, fall short of capturing individual experience and rob the griever of valuable support, insight, and transformation. An undercurrent of deeper meaning flows in spite of the phase. The woman grieving the loss of her job may be grappling with issues of identity, trust, faith, shame, and fear of an uncertain financial future. The man grieving the loss of his wife or partner may be battling overwhelming feelings of guilt, regret, the loss of partnership, and lack of direction. People grieving the loss of a pet may be feeling the emptiness of the companionship and no longer caring for another living being.

When we reach the “destination” of acceptance, we supposedly are healed and ready to move on with life. But, we humans don’t neatly fit into prescribed categories, and grief is rarely precise and tidy. We may ping-pong among the various phases, we may feel several simultaneously, or we may skip some entirely. The gamut of attendant feelings and the manner in which each person traverses them are as unique as fingerprints.

Acceptance means seeing a situation as it is, and knowing that it, and the people involved, won’t change. We need time and support to adjust to our new normal. Grief catapults us into previously unknown territory and requires a new language. Acceptance is a process that unfolds as we face each new day. We may integrate acceptance into our lives, several times. Or, we may bounce off acceptance like a force field. For instance, we may feel anger, sadness, and acceptance all at the same time. We may find ourselves at different points of the grief continuum in multiple situations.

Every experience of grief differs from its predecessor. My sister, my mother, and my partner died within a thirteen month period, my mother and partner ten weeks apart. I grieve each of them differently, but no less intensely, as they each played a different role in my life. I love them all for different, but no less important, reasons. Their lives brought value to mine in unique ways.

We need to be wary when someone tries to stuff us into a phase, or ridicules or discounts us about where we are in our grief. We feel what we feel when we feel it. Several years ago I grieved my father as he suffocated over a two-year period from lung cancer, emphysema, and asthma. Therapists and counselors call this “anticipatory grief.” A friend of mine was adamant that I couldn’t grieve my father ahead of his passing. He couldn’t understand that I was grieving the relationship that I could never establish with my father, in addition to watching him die slowly. I had been grieving the physical and emotional absence of my father my whole life, and those feelings intensified with his impending death. I appeared stoic at my father’s visitation, which my friend deemed inappropriate. He subsequently ended our relationship because I was “doing it wrong.”

The grief I have experienced was in addition to and different from the bouts of depression and anxiety I live with on a daily basis. I benefitted from honoring the directives of my body—eating and sleeping when I needed to rather than trying to adhere to a rigid schedule, maintaining my social support system and continuing with professional counseling. I learned what was right for me. For awhile, I needed a specific time to go to bed and to get up in the mornings. That schedule gave me a sense of control when everything else felt out of control. I took naps when I needed to without setting the alarm.

Grief is a universally human process. All grieving deserves respect and compassion, from ourselves as well as from others, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.

Good grief

May 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center


My mother, Winifred (Winnie) Grace Hayes, died April 24, 2017, after a three year dance with pancreatic cancer.

We all face death, dying, grief, and the support necessary to endure at various points in our lives. I have spent a good bit of my career walking with and counseling folks who have lost a loved one. As I recently mentioned to a colleague here at the Center, when it comes to grief there’s a big difference between the theoretical and experiential. As one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, put it in one of her letters (collected in The Habit of Being), “pity the one who loves what death can touch.”

It’s disorienting. As much as I like my new job, I find myself regularly distracted as I think of my Mom—or my Dad who is now navigating life without his wife of 59 years. I worry. You reach out to pick up the phone and then realize it won’t be answered. It hurts.

One of the great benefits about working here at the Center is that I’m surrounded by folks whose job is to be sensitive and empathetic. Their concern is sincere as they ask me how I’m doing.  Like many people in our lives, my perfunctory response is that “I’m fine.” Usually I am. When I’m not, it’s nice to be able to open up a bit. One of those colleagues gave me a bookmark which we hand out to those who have lost someone. It captures this quote from Helen Keller: “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.”

We distribute or reference many books on grief here at the Center. Among the popular authors is James E. Miller, who just happened to live across the hall from Ellery Duke in grad school. Miller’s books are eminently practical. In his book, “How Will I Get Through the Holidays?” he enumerates 10 ways to cope:

  1. Accept the likelihood of your pain.
  2. Feel whatever it is you feel.
  3. Express your emotions.
  4. Plan ahead.
  5. Take charge where you can.
  6. Turn to others for support
  7. Be gentle with yourself.
  8. Find a way to remember.
  9. Search out your blessings.
  10. Do something for others.

Many who visit us for counseling and spiritual direction have been touched by death and grief. I am so grateful that they will find at the Center a place of hope and healing as they go through the grieving process.

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Thank you for all you do to make our mission possible.



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