Getting equipped to help the grieving

Elizabeth Wingender sitting on campus.UWL junior Elizabeth Wingender plans to attend the International Death, Grief and Bereavement Conference at UWL in early June. She sees the conference as an opportunity to learn how to better communicate about what many perceive as a taboo topic —death.

Student hopes international conference in June will help her better approach an ‘untouchable’ topic

UWL student Elizabeth Wingender wants to help break the stigma and get to talking more about what she calls one of the most untouched topics: death

Wingender will attend the International Death, Grief and Bereavement Conference June 4-6 at UW-La Crosse, organized through UWL Continuing Education and Extension.

Through a special student opportunity sponsored by UWL’s Center for Death, Grief and Bereavement, Psychology Department and the College of Liberal Studies, Wingender’s expenses are covered. This is the second time this student opportunity has been offered and the goal is to continue to provide it every year, says Erica Srinivasan, assistant professor of psychology at UWL and director of The Center for Death, Grief and Bereavement.

“We want to foster students’ curiosity about end-of-life issues and/or support their desire — personally or professionally — to improve end-of-life care,” says Srinivasan.

UWL’s Center for Death, Grief and Bereavement is engaged in helping the public learn more about end-of-life issues and encourages conversations about death. The center holds free, public awareness events such as a “death café” in May, a collaboration with Viterbo University, held at The Root Note downtown.

Wingender’s first experience with death

Wingender first realized the lack of talk about death when her teenage cousin tragically died when Wingender was in the third grade. A role model and someone she looked forward to seeing at family gatherings was suddenly gone. Everyone was “walking on egg shells” around her — not knowing how to talk to a young child about grief. “I was experiencing a lot of emotions, and I didn’t know what they were,” she recalls.

As Wingender has grown older, she has experienced a similar difficulty approaching the topic when she has lost others close to her or friends are grieving.

“Everyone is grieving and we don’t know how to help each other,” she says. “With certain friends I’ve tried to help, but I’ve wanted to do more … This opportunity will give me some more ideas on how to do that. I want to draw those ties between my experiences with death and my knowledge.”

The opportunity will also help with Wingender’s future plans to become a social worker. She first got interested in social work after taking general psychology courses at UWL. The classes were “fascinating” and they scratched the surface of so many topics she wanted to learn more about.

Now a psychology major, Wingender says UWL does fantastic job of not only teaching the material, but helping students to get involved to broaden their knowledge through experience. The International Death, Grief and Bereavement Conference isn’t the first opportunity a faculty member on campus suggested she join.

A psychology faculty member also pointed her to an opportunity to volunteer with Parents Raising Resilient Children, a Gundersen Health System program to help parents develop effective strategies to raise healthy and resilient children. During spring semester, she volunteered twice a week to support the program by connecting with children while their parents were participating. This summer she is also taking an internship at the Family & Children’s Center Stepping Stones group where she helps children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

The International Death, Grief and Bereavement Conference

The conference provides presentations and sessions on death, grief and bereavement as they relate to caregiving. A pre-conference workshop will be Sunday, June 3. To register and learn more visit Day of registration is also accepted.