Special Needs Focus: TARC Grief Support

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My brother with our parents.

When both of our parents died within a year of each other, it was difficult for all of us, but it was my brother who experienced the most severe loss. David is intellectually disabled, and although he was happily living in an Intermediate Care Facility, their deaths were a huge loss in his life. David no longer lived at home, but my parents had remained intensely involved and were the most significant people in his life. The loss of both parents in such a short time was devastating, so I welcomed the idea when my brother’s case manager recommended weekly counseling. My brother has limited communication skills, so I was skeptical about someone being able to understand him, especially when talking about non-tangible issues such as grief and loss.

There is a perception among many that people with intellectual disabilities are always happy and easy-going. That stereotype is one that is rarely true. People with intellectual disabilities experience the same wide range of emotions we all do and can occasionally benefit from professional help in learning how to understand their feelings, communicate their feelings, and cope with emotions after a loss.

My brother was fortunate to receive professional counseling to assist him in dealing with the grief he experienced after our parents’ deaths. TARC, the local advocacy group for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, offers similar support. TARC provides numerous services, and among them is a grief support program that helps individuals understand and cope with feelings of loss. Through the help of a counselor, people can learn to process their feelings of grief in a developmentally appropriate manner.

Grief can be experienced upon the death of a family member, close friend, or caregiver. Grief support is not only helpful in dealing with death but also other issues such as preparing for end-of-life, when staff terminates employment, or when long-term roommates pass away or move. Any significant life change can be stressful. It’s beneficial to ask for help in managing difficult emotions through challenging times.

The pandemic has caused emotional stressors that are similar to feelings of grief. COVID-19 has exacerbated anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. It has created a sense of loss, a form of mourning for normalcy, in many of our lives. People with intellectual disabilities may be struggling to adapt to the loss of activities, schedules, and social get-togethers. It’s an emotionally difficult time that can be hard to comprehend. Having a professional to talk with can help.

The pandemic has forced many group homes and residential facilities to enact a lockdown to ensure the safety of residents. For some people, it’s the first time they have endured a long separation from family. My brother’s home is in quarantine so we can’t visit, but we talk on the phone, and I mail him letters and packages. Every time we talk, he asks over and over when I am coming to see him. He has never in his 57 years of life gone more than a month without seeing his family, and he doesn’t understand. I can’t make promises because none of us know the future. I am grieving the loss of “normalcy” as my brother is, as we all are. I’m thankful my brother is safe, and I’m also grateful he has a counselor to help him cope with the changes.

My parents died ten years ago, and my brother continues to see a counselor individually and also in a weekly therapy group. The improvement has been noticeable as he has learned to cope with the loss of our parents. The support my brother has received through counseling is available for individuals with intellectual disabilities through the TARC Grief support program. The only qualification for grief support services through TARC is the diagnosis of intellectual or developmental disabilities. Having access to a trained counselor who understands the needs of people with disabilities is important. We all need a little help from our friends occasionally, and TARC is there to provide assistance.

For information about the Grief Support Program offered by TARC, please contact Sherri at 918-582-8272.

To find out about other services TARC offers for individuals with Intellectual Disabilities or Developmental Disabilities and their families, visit the TARC website at http://www.ddadvocacy.net/ or call 918-582- 8272. You can also connect to TARC through their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TARC.Tulsa/

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