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Grief Awareness Week


All U-M Health System faculty, staff and students are invited to participate in Grief Awareness Week this spring to honor the difficult work we do for patients, families and colleagues.

The week takes place May 20–24 to acknowledge staff losses, both personal and professional, throughout the Health System. Several events will be offered during the week to help renew the head, heart and spirit. Activities cover the breadth and depth of our human experience through sadness, laughter, story-telling, music and creativity. Our goal is to reach all of our senses— sight, touch, sound, taste and smell— which research tells us allow for fully expressing grief and moving toward healing.

About Grief Awareness Week
Despite U-M’s world class patient care and research, many deaths occur each year within the U-M Hospital and Home Care settings. There is often no time for staff to mourn their losses or acknowledge the emotional impact of losing a patient, colleague or loved one. Unrecognized effects of cumulative grief can lead to burnout, stress, loss of productivity and low morale.
Social workers Sue Sefansky (Office of Decedent Affairs Coordinator) and Lisbeth Harcourt (Lung Transplant Program and Transplant Cumulative Grief Committee Chair) became chairs of Grief Awareness Week after recognizing a need for grief support and education among our health care workers who are often in an environment of loss and suffering.

They chair a multidisciplinary committee that includes Transport Services, Environmental Services, Nursing, M.D.’s, P.A’s, Child Life, UMHS Employee Assistance Program, Home Care Services, Spiritual Care, Gifts of Art, Public Information Office, and Interpreter Services among many.  Please direct questions about the week to either Sue or Lisbeth.
Schedule of Grief Week events:

  • Monday: Schwartz Rounds: The Creativity of Grief.  12 – 1 p.m. Ford Auditorium (UH). (CEU/CE’s available). Staff will share how they creatively cope with issues of loss through music, writing or other means. 
  • Tuesday: Grief Relief: Looking for Laughter in the Midst of Loss by Sister Susanne.   12 p.m. in Ford Auditorium. Sister Susanne is a national speaker on a variety of topics and is a certified laughter leader with the World of Laughter Tour.  Join us for what promises to be an uplifting look at grief and loss.  * Please note that staff may invite family or friends to join them at this event.  Lunch provided for the first 125 attendees. Click here for details.
  • Wednesday: Staff Memorial Service in Danto Auditorium, CVC from 8 – 9:30 a.m. and 5 – 6:30 p.m. Opening remarks, readings and music will be followed by four stations designed to refuel the mind, body and spirit. The service will conclude with a parting ritual. Drop in for all or part of this service. Come before you start your day or when your day is over.
  • Thursday: Keynote speaker Dr. Alan Wolfelt will present “ Grief in the Workplace: Companioning Yourself as you Companion Patients, Families and Staff.” Dow Auditorium from 8 – 10 a.m. and again from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Wolfelt is a highly regarded expert in the field of grief and loss.  He will talk about the daily challenges faced when grieving lost patients, family members and colleagues.
  • Refreshments will be provided at both sessions. *Please note that staff are welcome to invite their family or friends to join this event.

  • Thursday:  Gospel Music: Patterson’s Our Own Thing Chorale 12:10-1 p.m. UH Main Lobby.  We are pleased to present this wonderful gospel group during Grief Week.  Their music will soothe your soul.
  • Friday: Grief and Gratitude: Families reflect on our role in their loss – 12 p.m., Danto Auditorium, CVC.  Four families will be talking to us about their experience with grief and how the sensitive care of our U-M staff helped them through a difficult transition.   (Lunch provided to the first 125.)

Throughout the Week

Grief wall: Windows on the main hall of 2nd floor UH (courtside) will be featured. Employees, using paint markers on the windows will have an opportunity to share thoughts, messages, poems and coping strategies related to their personal loss and grief stories. This is an interactive way to display personal expression of grief and coping, and connect us all to this universal human experience.

Art Project: To memorialize a grief experience, staff will be able to create a small, beautiful scroll.  The tiny scrolls will become part of a large hanging tapestry displayed at UMHS. The tapestry will be a visible reminder celebrating the care which faculty and staff provide to dying patients and their families. The Art Project may be available on units and in outpatient clinics.

Resource Table: Table of resources for staff and will be located at all events.

Tips of the day: Look for helpful ideas and strategies for healthy grieving and self-care on the UMHS internal home page –

Additionally there will be an evening event with Dr. Wolfelt which is geared toward the professional public entitled: “Beyond Therapy: the art of companioning the bereaved.” See details here.