Of all the criterion one could use to judge a community; its beauty, economy, safety, housing, employment, elected officials, football team, airport, roads or even symphonies, grief literacy would probably not even be on the list. Who even knows what it is? The idea of assessing quality of life on the basis of grief literacy (i.e. awareness and availability of resources to help the grieving) sounds morbid in itself.

And yet, emotional support and outreach to those surviving the loss of a loved one would appear to be a good measure of “a compassionate community,” wouldn’t you think? Just how compassionate are we?

Eight years ago, as executive director of The Jenna Druck Foundation, I started a grief co-op called The San Diego Bereavement Consortium (SDBC). As an old community mental health director, I was appalled at the lack of communication or continuity, let alone public awareness, between San Diego-based organizations that were dealing with death. It was quite a telling revelation when, at our first meeting, nobody really knew anybody else, much less what they or their organization did or had to offer. We were splintered and ignorant.

Beyond people’s lack of familiarity with other grief resources in the community, there was a subtle competitiveness between organizations — as if there weren’t enough grieving people or funding to go around. The results of this kind of disconnect among service organizations are predictable. Constituents receive lower quality services, often fall through the cracks and never find out about valuable programs that could benefit them or their families. This was and is unacceptable.

A step in the right direction was bringing together “grief workers” from hospitals, hospices, clinics, churches, schools, synagogues, fire and emergency services, the military, funeral service providers, police departments, and youth organizations, as well as physicians, therapists, and the medical examiner. Representatives from over 50 organizations, large and small, profit and nonprofit, were able to learn about each other’s programs, collaborate on projects, coordinate services, identify underserved communities, elevate each other’s professional education, network and provide much-needed emotional support to one another.

Working together, we created the nation’s first Grief Resource Directory. The Directory can now be found in literally thousands of San Diego area schools, hospitals, police stations, hospices, clinics and funeral homes. For the past seven years, SDBC has grown into a valuable educational and support network of high quality grief workers and their organizations. Several years ago, we collaborated with the San Diego Red Cross to form the nation’s first Emergency Response Grief Team. Now that’s community!

There is so much more we could all do to support thousands of San Diegans who, on any given day, are dealing with the loss of a loved one. It begins with becoming grief literate ourselves. Every single one of us will experience a significant loss in our lifetime. Eventually, we will all have to deal with the loss of our own lives. It makes good sense to learn the dos and don’ts of grief, to become the kind of person others would go to in their time of need, and to join the ranks of the grief literate by finding out more about San Diego’s now-rich offering of grief resources, some of them nationally-recognized. What else can we do to make San Diego a truly compassionate community?

—KEN DRUCK, Ph.D.

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