Bunning Center Addresses Grief and Anger

by Pat Moynahan on September 4, 2017

Bunning-CenterFLORENCE – Place matters.

That’s the assessment of Dr. James Ellis, a professional counselor, chaplain and the bereavement care coordinator at St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

That’s why he began lobbying for a separate place at St. Elizabeth’s facilities in Edgewood for grief support as far back as 2009, Ellis said at a luncheon meeting of the Florence Rotary Club on August 28.

“When people are seeking help with bereavement of a loved one, they are struggling,” he explained. “We need to have a place where people can physically wrestle with their grief.”

St. Elizabeth HealthCare opened a $1.5 million standalone bereavement support center in June 2016 on Loop Drive next to the Hospice Center. The new facility was renamed the Mary and Jim Bunning Community Grief Support Center in July.

The Hospice Center previously housed St. Elizabeth’s bereavement programs. The location was not ideal for grief support, according to Ellis. Some people associated it with their loss and meeting there compounded their anger issues, he said.

Grieving parents, families and people who have lost a spouse need “an emotional safe place” to meet and share stories, in Ellis’ view. He believes the popularity of the grief support center proves his point.

The 3,000-square foot center includes a “viewing room” where people can sit quietly, look outside and peacefully sort out their thoughts and feelings. The center also has a coffee shop, private counseling offices and an outdoor patio with a fire pit where people can “put down their grief on paper and burn it” symbolically, Ellis said.

The center is considering different names for the coffee shop, which is sometimes called the Death Café by people who frequent it. The coffee shop typically is called that in bereavement centers because it provides “an informal place where people are able to get comfort and talk about how to get over this,” Ellis said.

Perhaps the best evidence of the value of the separate grief center is a growing support group for widowers, according to Ellis. Men don’t typically feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings after the loss of a spouse, he said.

As many as 30 men have been gathering informally at the grief support center in Edgewood lately and the number has continued to grow. As a result, the center “is helping men who have lost a spouse rebuild their lives,” he said.

They leave those gatherings in a better place emotionally than when they came into the center, Ellis said.

Just as he expected when he started lobbying for it.