Even though she is a licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Lillian Meyers’ training had not prepared her for what she would experience when her youngest son, Jimmy, was killed in a car accident more than 30 years ago.
On Nov. 22, 1981, Jimmy was driving for the first time in icy conditions, and his car skidded off the road and hit a telephone pole. The Bethel Park High School senior suffered chest trauma when he hit the steering wheel. He died on the way to a local hospital.
“That loss was the most devastating thing that ever happened to us,” said Meyers.
Meyers, her husband, Bob, and their seven surviving children went through the funeral, and she returned to her job as the director of the forensic center at Mayview State Hospital. While Meyers knows about psychology, she said she did not know much about the grief process.
“It is a long and difficult journey,” said Meyers, “and too often lonely as non-grievers do not know how to help.”
Meyers said that when she returned to work after the funeral, she felt abandoned by most of her coworkers. She said most people, including those in the mental health field, have a limited tolerance for people dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Not long after Jimmy’s death, Meyers and her husband joined Compassionate Friends, a self-help/support group for parents, grandparents, and siblings who are mourning the death of a child. Meyers said that people at Compassionate Friends, having lost a child, understood their grief and what they were going through.
Meyers decided to honor Jimmy by helping others who grieve. She joined the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and became a certified grief counselor and certified thanatologist – a person who studies the social and psychological aspects of death, dying and bereavement. After Meyers retired from Mayview in 1988, she founded and directed the Grief Training Institute at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
Now retired from the Grief Training Institute, Meyers remains active in Compassionate Friends, and most recently has written a book to help others navigate their journey in grief.
“I’m Sorry for Your Loss…Hope and Guidance in Managing Your Grief” offers information about the grieving process, tips on how to care for yourself in the first year of loss, how to reconnect with life, spiritual perspective on grief, and how to help others going through the grief journey.
In addition to being a reference to help other when they are grieving, “I’m Sorry for Your Loss” is a memorial to Jimmy.
“I didn’t write the book to make money,” said Meyers. “I’ve given away a great number of them to help those dealing with the death of a loved one.”
Meyers describes bereavement as “the state of having suffered a loss, and grief is the experience of that loss.” Grief is the beginning, while “grieving or mourning is the emotional and cognitive process of grief.”
Her book, which can be purchased at Amazon, includes some of the experiences grievers may share, including shock, anger, acceptance, reconnection, hope, and spiritual acceptance and adjustment. “Grievers do not ‘step’ from one stage to the next, but there are similar thoughts and feelings in the process.
“Grief is manageable, but not fixable,” said Meyers.
Meyers offers advice for ways to help a friend or family member who is grieving. She thinks the most important gift you can give someone is the gift of presence. Most people aren’t good listeners, said Meyers, so “keep your mouth shut and your arms open.”
In addition to being there, friends and family can help those who lost a loved one by initiating and anticipating some of their needs, listening when the griever tells their loved one’s story, avoiding clichés or easy answers, seeking out accurate information about the grief process, being patient, accepting the expression of all feelings and honoring those feelings, and saying the loved one’s name.