Often people come to professional grief work in response to the death of someone they love. But in a strange and horrible reversal of that, Susan Marcuccio’s experience has been the reverse. After establishing a reputation for her work in chaplaincy, Susan had to confront the death of her son.

Susan is the National Supervision Director at Chaplaincy Australia.

It’s hard to imagine, but chaplains are involved in at least 26 different professional sectors, so their experiences are quite diverse: “People tend to think of chaplaincy in connection with schools, hospitals, aged care. But we work in a range of areas – prisons and disaster areas and many other places.”

 (To see a wide variety of locations many chaplains work in, visit: www.chaplaincyaustralia.com)

“Chaplaincy is about being present to the person right where they are at, as they struggle with the grief that they are experiencing. There are a variety of different faiths and denominations that come together for chaplaincy work. By its very nature, chaplaincy work is about respecting another person’s world view. It’s overarching and very inclusive.”

“Whether the person is Christian, Buddhist, another religion, or has no particular affiliation with any group, our role is to be there for them, and not push our beliefs onto them.”

“My biggest motivation for chaplaincy is very clear to me – I’ve worked out I can’t stand the thought of someone suffering alone and this has informed everything I do, since I first started as a hospital chaplain many years ago,” Susan said.

What has grief taught you?

For many years Susan worked as a chaplaincy trainer with Chaplaincy Australia and Alphacrucis College  www.ac.edu.au/chaplaincy as well as working as a hospital chaplain in a variety of major hospitals. She worked in Accident and Emergency settings and intensive care units, and is still with Chaplaincy Australia today where she now trains and mentors its members. She also provides Pastoral Supervision for chaplains – caring for the carers.

“Having taught on grief and loss I then found myself in a position where our son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was sick for three years and then died at the age of 29. We have just had his five year anniversary recently.”

Susan is still very affected by his death. While he was Susan’s stepson, he had grown up with Susan. Their’s was a combined family, with six children, two of Susan’s children and her husband had four. Another of her husband’s sons also died, many years before, in a car accident.

“So my husband has had to deal with the loss of two sons.”

“I had taught on grief and loss, and been in many situations where people had experienced losses but nothing is quite the same as losing a child. It was a very difficult situation for me to find myself in and it forced me to re-examine everything I had taught.”

“My grief taught me that grief is so much broader than we imagine, and it affects so many people –  but each of us in profoundly different ways.”

“My grief was so much more heart-wrenching than I could have ever imagined. I was used to being the chaplain. I was pre-programed to be a support for other people – but not for myself. So initially I went back to that default, of being a support for everyone else.”

“Then I had to ask, at a deeply personal level, when entirely alone with my own grief “What does this experience mean for me?”

“The dual processing model of bereavement helped me enormously to understand what I was going through”. 

“This model says we go between two spaces when we’re grieving. One is the intense grief and the other is our new normal space. We experience those two different sides of the grief space at different times, in fact, we move between the two.”

“However, some people are more prone to being in the grief space, for example, not being able to get out of bed. Others might appear to be more in the new normal, say going straight back to work – at least that’s the way it looks to others who see them – even though they are actually going between the two.”

“There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s actually healthy to move between the two, although eventually spending more time in the new normal. How people do this will be different and that’s okay.”

“I had to learn to apply this to myself.”

What is Covid-19 teaching you?

“In my role as supervisor I’m really aware of how differently people are experiencing Covid-19 losses.”

“People are grieving the losses of so many different things. Some people are much busier than usual, juggling children and work, while others are quieter because they’ve lost work. All of these people can be grieving. Grief comes from the loss of something that someone has made an emotional investment in, so the loss could be of a person, of a job, of going into the office, of certain freedoms.”

“But we are also experiencing other things. We’re taking the opportunity to reflect on our own lives, and this moment of reflection is good for us.”

“I’ve recently done quite a bit of work on resilience and developing this can be a very helpful for people too. Covid-19 has reminded me of the importance of resilience.”

“What has really helped me is to see things from an eternal perspective, then we have hope and we don’t give up.  When we are grounded in God’s love, others focused, and determined to walk in our purpose and calling, we don’t want to give up!” 

Susan’s recent work on resilience is not available at the moment but will be available through Hope Unlimited Church soon. For more on this, go to: www.hopeuc.com

Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut first drew this model in 1999. To see it illusgtrated, go to: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-dual-process-model-of-coping-with-bereavement_fig1_46664149

To find out more about their work go to: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21058610

For an insight into the work of New York hospital chaplains now, go to: https://www.newyorker.com/news/on-religion/the-plight-of-a-hospital-chaplain