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Alan Forrest, EdD

As a licensed professional counselor and professor in the Department of Counselor Education at Radford University, Alan has extensive clinical experience in the areas of death, loss, grief, bereavement and self-care.

Alan Forrest has dedicated a good part of his life focusing inward. The result? A better perspective on the outside world.

In addition to his personal mindfulness meditation, Alan has co-led mindfulness retreats for students, and other helping professionals and will be bringing this experience as a presenter at our professional development program, Perinatal Loss: Facilitating Healing Through Compassionate Dialogue.

In his experiential session, “Being with Loss: Mindfulness as the Basis for Compassionate Self-Care,” Alan will help us bring attention inward to explore the edges of physical and emotional discomfort that often accompanies loss, so we can use that awareness to develop our capacity to mindfully navigate our own experience of loss.

Alan graciously agreed to share some more information about his background and how a mindfulness approach can help guide one through life’s ups and downs.

Tell us a little bit about your background in working with loss and grief. What kindled your interest in this area?

As with many people, my interest was an outgrowth of personal life experiences with death, grief and loss. When I was 18 years old, my grandmother, who I was very emotionally close to, died. It was a couple of weeks prior to my high school graduation. At the end of the summer I experienced the transition of leaving my family and going to college.

At the time, although I didn’t know it, I was experiencing the normal, natural, and expectable responses to a loss of a loved one, but I thought I was “going crazy.” I was alone with my grief and was reluctant to share it with anyone else. Because this was my first significant loss, it led me to want to learn more about death, dying, grief, and loss.

As I continued my academic pursuits I always seemed to be drawn to gain deeper understanding and awareness of the death and grief processes. I have conducted research on loss issues with addictive individuals, led training sessions for hospice volunteers, facilitated numerous professional training sessions, presented at many local, state, and national professional conferences, developed (and currently teach) a Death, Loss & Grief Counseling course at the graduate level, and of course have worked extensively in my role as a counselor with grieving and bereaved individuals, families, and groups.

How has mindfulness impacted your own life?

For me, mindfulness has been a life-changing transformative experience. It has allowed me to cultivate a greater awareness and acceptance of things as they are in life. The practice of mindfulness has helped me become more aware of the importance of living in the present moment and appreciating all of life’s experiences – the joyful ones and the sorrowful ones.

I have gratitude for the gift of each day and am receptive to whatever comes my way. I have gained a deeper sense of awareness, understanding, kindness, and compassion. I have a sense of greater connectedness to everyone I encounter and recognize we are all on our own life journey; for me I must follow the path that makes “my heart smile.”

How does mindfulness help us cope with loss and grief?

It has taken me many life lessons to fully understand and embrace the notion of impermanence. To recognize that life is always changing and that whether I am in the middle of a delightful experience – the joy of being a part of a sunrise at the beach – or an unpleasant one – deep anguish and hurt from loss – it will change. Although it may sound somewhat paradoxical, there is a comforting quality to impermanence. I can experience, without filtering through the prism of judgment, whatever I am experiencing in the present moment. I can truly “be” with whatever is and experience the richness of living life one moment at a time.

How can mindfulness help care providers when they are working with someone who is experiencing a loss?

The practice of mindfulness can help caregivers maintain a sense of centeredness or balance in working with such high emotionally intense clinical situations. When an individual or family experiences a loss there is a whirlwind of emotional energy swirling in many different directions. It can be a highly charged time, oftentimes filled with fear, or perhaps a sense of not knowing; that is, an unknowing of how to respond, how to feel, and what to think. The caregiver needs to be grounded in the midst of possible anxiety and ambiguity; it is mindfulness that can serve as an anchor in the center of the storm.

What are some basic mindfulness resources that would be useful for people who have experienced loss and practitioners? Can you guide us toward some of your favorite books or web-based resources?

BOOKS

Leaves Falling Gently: Living Fully with Serious and Life-Limiting Illness through Mindfulness, Compassion, and Connectedness by Susan Bauer

The Power of Compassion: Stories that Open the Heart, Heal the Soul, and Change the World by Pamela Bloom

Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death by Joan Halifax

The Art of Being a Healing Presence by James E. Mille & Susan Cutshall

WEBSITES

Living With Passion

Voices of Grief

Perinatal loss affects all who are touched by it. Nurture’s professional development workshop, Perinatal Loss: Facilitating Healing Through Compassionate Dialogue, on October 18 at Maymont Park in Richmond, Virginia, provides an extraordinary opportunity for professionals who work with child-bearing families to gain a greater understanding of how perinatal loss affects families and care providers. Learn more about the event and reserve your spot here.

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