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A Personal Journey

by:  S. Craig Greer, M.Div

When I was 13 my oldest brother was killed by a drunk driver. He was 22 years old and just started a career as editor of a small daily newspaper in Sweetwater, Texas.  He and his girlfriend were returning home from a movie and a car driving on the wrong side of the road hit them head on.  Charlie was killed instantly.  His girlfriend (soon to be fiancé) Cindy, was in the car and died from a blood clot a week later.

This was 1973.  We didn’t talk about grief.  I am sure my parents grieved together and they found solace in one another and later, reaching out to other parents who experienced the death of a child.  But we siblings were left wandering, expected to stoically go on as before.  There was a deep awkward silence that dominated our house.  The cloud of grief and sorrow always present. I also learned that sibling rivalry does not end with the death of a sibling. It is hard to compete with a saint.

I tried to numb the pain with alcohol and marijuana.  I found spirituality through a teen retreat program that helped me connect to others and restored some sense of sanity.  But this gaping wound was always there – I tried and tried to fill this void. When I turned 23 and had lived longer than my brother – survivor’s guilt kicked into high gear.  I was once again self-destructive and once again my faith restored me to some degree, even to the point of entering ministry.

Finally, when I was doing my chaplain residency in a hospital, I had to confront that grief and loss for the first time.  I have spent a life time still trying to make sense of and find meaning in these events.  From the time I was 13 until I left home, my parents were not available.  They were lost in the grief that, now as I parent, I know I cannot begin to understand.  When trying to discuss this with my parents they thought I was blaming them for not being present – but it wasn’t about blame.  Those were the circumstances – our reality as we struggled to survive that awful loss in our lives.

That one event in June of 1973 reshaped my life.  I never looked at career choices as much as I looked at how I could contribute, especially in the areas of bringing hope and compassion to the grieving and those who were hurting.  This led me to hospice where I have served for the past 18 years.

I, like so many with similar and much worse experiences, was wounded to the core.  The trauma of those days are still vivid – the self-destructive tendencies and survivor’s guilt is always just below the surface – coupled with more than a little of my own Irish Catholic guilt.

Today there is a term for this woundedness – Soul Injury.  Deborah Grassman a nurse practitioner at the VA has more than 30 years of working with veterans and has learned a great deal about how trauma – all kinds of trauma – affects the soul and robs us of our energy and enjoyment of life. That experience also helped her recognize that others who experience any kind of trauma often experience soul injury.

She has worked with victims of violence and abuse, first responders, hospice workers and many others through the years and found meaningful ways to help the find peace and restoration of the soul.

Deborah founded an organization, Opus Peace, that is dedicated to helping heal soul injury and teaching others what she has learned.  She will be in Birmingham at Canterbury United Methodist church on Tuesday, May 22nd and will present: Soul Injury: Liberating Unmourned Loss and Unforgiven Guilt.  Registration is at 4:30 and the presentation begins at 5:30. This is free and open to the public.  Continuing education is available for nurses and social workers. The event is sponsored by Comfort Care Hospice and Opus Peace.

To register for this free event, go to