Q&A with Author Jane Williams
Ahead of our August 6 Evening of Comfort with Dr. Jane Williams, we had a few questions for the author.
What strikes you most when people talk about the “healing power of story”?
I think we have a natural affinity for stories. They give us a sense of continuity. With the death of someone who is important to us, we often experience chaos and confusion. To make our experience “real,” we develop a grief narrative that we tell to others and ourselves. The story may be as short as a couple of sentences or as long as a chapter in a book. But the importance of the story is that it gives meaning to what has happened to us. It helps us make sense of our loss and provides healing through this meaning-making process.
How has your personal story of grief opened your heart and ears to listen differently?
My stories of grief and the many stories I have heard from others in grief have convinced me that grief is an unbelievably unique process. We cannot predict how any of us will respond to a particular loss. We feel common emotions, but each of us makes meaning of loss in our own unique way.
The poet Mary Oliver writes, “Even grief is a gift.” What is your interpretation of her reflection?
Although initially difficult to see, I believe that grief has many gifts to offer. Through the process of grief, we come to see our resilience—-our ability to live through loss and re-engage in life. It teaches us how to love in separation and to use memories to connect and “keep alive” the legacy of the person we loved. Grief can result in healing and hope—relearning how to live our lives in a new way.
Where has the writing of your book taken you (theologically, professionally, socially)?
Professionally, my work in grief had deep meaning for me and I initially experienced a sense of existential loss in retirement. Writing the book became my last, and hopefully my best, piece of therapy. It allowed me to share with others a sense of hope and healing that can come out of suffering. In addition, I have had opportunities to speak at conferences and workshops for individuals working in the field of grief as well as individuals in the process of grief. I have been amazed at the many stories others have shared with me about their transformative experiences.
Spiritually, I think that the book allowed me to express my strong belief in the possibility of change in our lives. My minister calls the narratives “Easter stories” and that is how I see them. A new way of experiencing life follows deep suffering.
Jane Williams, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who has worked for over 25 years with individuals who have experienced trauma, life threatening illnesses, and grief. Dr. Williams completed postdoctoral fellowships at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Harvard Medical School. At Harvard, she trained at the Linda Pollin Institute for Medical Crisis Counseling.
Following her fellowship at Harvard, she developed a Medical Crisis and Loss Clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital as well as assisted with the development of the Good Mourning Program. She made numerous presentations at the national meetings of the Association for Death Education and Counseling during her membership in the organization. She has written over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, 3 book chapters, and one test manual on various psychological topics as well as served on the editorial board of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. She recently retired from Wake Forest Medical School as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics.