In 30 years as a Veterans Affairs hospice nurse practitioner, Deborah Grassman saw firsthand the ravages of “soul injury.” She cared for veterans who faced regrets and guilt on their deathbeds.
“I would help them grieve their unmourned losses and forgive themselves for things they thought they should or should not have done,” Grassman says. “Often, there was a subsequent, visible liberation. And too often the veterans would poignantly say, ‘Why couldn’t I have learned this years ago? Why did I have to be dying to know about this?’”
Grassman took their comments to heart and cofounded Opus Peace to bring their wisdom to the rest of the world. The nonprofit organization provides educational programs that address problems arising from trauma, abuse, self-neglect, and serious illness.
Grassman will explore her unique approach in Soul Injury: A New Paradigm for Responding to Trauma (Oct. 19-20), a workshop for the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the UW Pyle Center. It’s designed for anyone working with people who have experienced trauma, including hospice workers, doctors, nurses, educators, first responders, social workers, counselors, pastors, nursing home administrators, therapists, and funeral home directors.
Grassman defines soul injury as “an aching wound perpetuated by unmourned loss and unforgiven guilt that is often manifested as a sense of emptiness or loss of meaning.” From her work with the dying veterans, she learned that grieving and forgiveness provide a path toward healing.
Unfortunately, Grassman says, this principle is not routinely taught in professional health-care curriculums, nor is it part of standard treatment for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“As a result, traumatized people have not learned the value of grief, nor have they been taught how to grieve,” she says. “They have a hard time being in the present moment because unmourned loss and unforgiven guilt unconsciously keep them stuck in the past, always on guard, and fearful of disarming their heart lest it be traumatized again.”
Journey to wholeness
On Oct. 19, day one of Soul Injury: A New Paradigm for Responding to Trauma will explore the consequences of unmourned loss. The optional second day, on Oct. 20, will focus on the journey from unforgiven guilt to wholeness.
Grassman will also give a free public lecture about soul injury on Oct. 19, 7 p.m., at the Pyle Center. Afterwards, a panel will share their stories.
Grassman’s goal is for people to stop fearing emotional pain and guilt so they can respond to them effectively.
“I hope participants in the workshop have many ‘aha’ moments in which they see the relevance of the concept and its implementation into practice,” she says. “I never get tired of seeing how lives change when people get this information. It is the fuel that keeps me going.”
For more information about Soul Injury: A New Paradigm for Responding to Trauma, contact Barbara Nehls-Lowe, email@example.com, 608-890-4653.