Lara Moretti has been providing bereavement counseling and support for families of organ and tissue donors since 2003 at Gift of Life Donor Program (GLDP). Currently the Director of Family Support Services at GLDP, Lara has served as secretary and co-chair of the AOPO Donor Family Services Council. She is also a member of the Gift of Life Institute’s faculty, where she leads trainings on the impact of loss and grief on family donation conversations. Lara was recently a named a Fellow in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement from the Association for Death Education and Counseling for demonstrating knowledge, experience, and education in death, dying, and bereavement.
We sat down with her to learn more about thanatology and its application to her work at Gift of Life.
What is thanatology?
Thanatology is the study of death, dying, and bereavement and the impact death has on those who are grieving.
What prompted you to study it?
As a bereavement counselor for donor families, I wanted to increase my knowledge about grief so I could better support the families we serve.
What have you learned about grief through your fellowship that surprised you?
I have been surprised by how resilient families are. Even though they have experienced a major loss, they show grace and compassion and can grow from the trauma they endured. Also, I have a greater appreciation for grief after non-death losses, such as the loss of one’s health, job, or home.
You work in family support services. How has your study of thanatology impacted your work in supporting donor families and recipients as well as the information you share through the Institute?
I feel I have a more well-rounded understanding of grief and that has allowed me to support families and recipients in their different displays of grief. Helping grieving individuals understand that what they are experiencing is normal can hopefully alleviate some of the pressure they put on themselves to grieve in the “right way.” There is no one right way. There is only your way.
In my work with the Institute, I see how critical it is to train donation professionals about acute grief so they can be better prepared to support families in conversations about donation. Most health care professionals have no formal training on grief so we enter the field with our own perceptions and ideas about what grief should look like.
What do you wish more people understood about grief?
In general, I think we are a fairly grief illiterate society even though all of us will experience grief in our lives. I wished more people understood that grief can manifest itself in not just emotional reactions but also spiritual, physiological, and cognitive reactions as well. Additionally, grief is not something that needs to be fixed or cured. It is a long process that must be experienced after a loss.