By Robin GOLDSWORTHY
To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.”
Most everybody has suffered loss – some have been major, like the loss of a spouse, child or parent. Other losses are less traumatic but painful just the same. Unfortunately, sometimes when people have to deal with a major loss in their life they become stuck at that point in time, seemingly unable to move forward. This can lead to the fracturing of other relationships or self-destructive behavior. Helping those grapple with their loss and enabling them to move forward is the mission of Beyond Loss Bereavement Ministry, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on Thursday night.
Rev. Alice Zulli is the founder and director of Beyond Loss Bereavement Ministry and a chaplain at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. The Beyond Loss program is a partnership with the Chaplains’ Department at GAMC. At Thursday night’s dinner, not only was Beyond Loss celebrated but also the powerful work done by Zulli over the years.
Tom Armentrout-Wiswall was one who sought Zulli’s help after losing his husband to stomach cancer. The couple had adopted three special needs children and Armentrout-Wiswall shared with the audience that after his husband’s death he became “apathetic” about life.
“Loss can rob a person of hope,” he said. “Grief is something that you don’t voluntarily experience.”
But he said that after working with Zulli he found miraculous things through life and love that carried him through his loss and today he looks to a life enriched by being a parent to his three children.
Jean Toh lost her son to suicide in 2012. She shared that in addition to coping with the devastating loss there are other components to suicide, including embarrassment, which make healing difficult. Toh joined the Survivors of Suicide Support Group, which she credits with helping her move forward. Since then, she was trained as a bereavement facilitator to lead grief support groups as a way to help others. She is also on the Survivors After Suicide advisory board at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.
Local chiropractor Dr. Mark Anthony was the evening’s keynote speaker. Praised as a holistic chiropractor by Zulli, Anthony employs traditional chiropractic with “cutting edge quantum healing (mind) combined with the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda (spirit).”
Anthony told the audience of his experiences as a healer and that he never thought that he would need the services of Beyond Loss. Unfortunately, after the untimely death of his 22-year-old son he found the journey to recovery difficult to navigate. He referenced the five stages that people go through when dealing with loss – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – which are tools used by people to learn how to live after losing someone dear. He cautioned that often people stall at one stage or another and he found that he was having trouble in moving forward. Having known Zulli and her family for years, he turned to her and the Beyond Loss program. He credited the program with helping him come to terms with his son’s death.
Zulli had never planned to have a career in death, dying and bereavement (thanatology) but she embraced the idea when she responded to “God’s call [that] encompasses the foundational purposes of our lives” as she wrote in a greeting to the guests attending the anniversary dinner.
“Spending time with the bereaved has been the most outstanding and remarkable life experience I could have ever imagined,” Zulli wrote. “The secret lies in the deep honesty and courage of the bereaved as they share with us their journey through grief always believing that someday they would be in peace and harmony with their life.”
The numbers and types of grief seminars have increased over the years. What started as one general support group has evolved into several groups including adult grief support, teen grief support, survivors of suicide and loss of spouse/significant other. Beyond Loss also offers individual grief counseling.
Zulli described the process of sharing personal stories of pain as “climbing out of the abyss of loss” and credited a team of people trained as bereavement facilitators who assist in that process. Zulli added that over the years thousands have been trained in this area and given the tools to help those in the bereaved community.
Zulli and the work of Beyond Loss were recognized by several government entities including Glendale mayor Paula Devine, Congressman Adam Schiff, Senator Carol Liu, Assemblyman Mike Gatto and Supervisor Michael Antonovich. She was also voted by readers of CV Weekly as the Finest Grief Counselor.
GAMC president and CEO Kevin Roberts and GAMC Community Services & Chaplains’ Dept. Director Bruce Nelson presented Zulli with a Spirit Leader Award for her work. Also recognized with a Spirit Corporate Partner Award was Forest Lawn for its financial and moral support to the program over the years. The Spirit Community Partner Award was presented to Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which provides a Survivors of Suicide support group. The Spirit Volunteer Award was given to the certified bereavement facilitators and chaplain volunteers and interns.
Though many have benefitted from the services that Zulli and the bereavement ministry have provided, she made it clear that she too has benefitted over the years.
“I think we don’t really know another person until we have companioned them through a loss,” she wrote. “The result is a deeper and very different kind of knowing.”