Grief expert visits Comfort Care Hospice

Published 1:37 am Friday, March 1, 2019

Sandra Ulrich is a counselor in a neutral country that never goes to war.

But she came to the United States to learn from combat veterans how to help her palliative care patients in Switzerland find peace.

“I am in the U.S. to learn more about soul injury,” she said.

Opus Peace defines a soul injury as an overlooked, unassessed wound that separates one from their own sense of self. The organization was formed by five hospice nurses to teach other healthcare  professionals learn how to help patients restore their peace.

It was at an Opus training event that she met Comfort Care Hospice administrator Mitzi Butler, who invited her to Andalusia. This week, she’s provided training for Comfort Care staff members, and joined Comfort Care’s veterans support group.

In Switzerland, hospice is very different from the care in the United States.

“What they do here, going to patients in their homes, we hardly have that,” she said. “In Switzerland, 80 percent of people die in a hospital, they don’t die at home. .”

“Here, I had the chance to go with the group and visit people at home. I saw how they work, how well staffed they are, the emotional, intelligence offered to their patients.”

Ulrich was studying in the United States when she attended a church service and had an epiphany of sorts.

“We live in peace, also, because those men went to fight,” she said. “The first time it hit me was at church. Very often in the U.S., when I went to church, they said, ‘We pray for the soldiers bringing peace to the world.’

When I heard that the first time, I was like ‘Wow. If that would be my son or my daughter.’

“So, that’s why I’m here,” she said. “As a grief counselor, we want to improve our care for dying people. “

Often, she said, people who have experienced trauma or tragedies in their lives put it aside. But experiences at the end of life can trigger memories and cause the patients to act out.

“It doesn’t have to be a veteran, we have this also in Switzerland,” she said. “We experience terror attacks, refugees … we are not holy.”

She used a rape victim as an example.

“Just imagine you get raped, you can’t flight or flee, and you feel so helpless,” she said. “Time goes on, you see a doctor, and get along. But usually at the end of life, tragic situations can trigger you again. Then you feel helpless again. You may not know why feel that way, and act out.”

Grief counselors  need to understand the concept and be able to help, she said.

Ulrich said grief counselors need tools for dealing with soul injury that allow them to work quickly.

“We cannot work with tools that need 10 sessions,” she said.

Research also shows that PTSD affects three generations, she said.

For instance, someone who went to war may have a child who doesn’t go to war. But if the veteran never plays games or sports because of PTSD, that goes with the child, she said, and can continue to a third generation.

Ulrich is now conducting research about soul injury, and will present her data at the 16th World Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care in Berlin, and at a conference in Basel, Switzerland, this spring.

She invites anyone interested to assist with her research by completing a survey