Uniting to help those in mourning

Levinson funeral home, Jewish Family Services to begin outreach initiative

June 09, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

For more than a century, it has been the role of Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home to bury the dead. The grieving family was served by Jewish Family Services.

Now the Pikesville-based funeral home and the social services agency are collaborating in a broad-based bereavement initiative that will include a lecture series, a library on death and dying, and a grief counseling program.

To inaugurate its initiative, the funeral home, with Jewish Family Services, is holding the first Irvin B. Levinson Memorial Lecture on Death, Dying and Bereavement from 3: 45 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m. today at the funeral home at 8900 Reisterstown Road.

The program will feature Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of the best-selling "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," with Jay I. Levinson, a psychologist specializing in grief counseling, and a panel of experts. The program is free and is open on a first-come, first-served basis.

The initiative to offer grief counseling and support groups to survivors reflects a trend in the funeral industry. In April, Service Corporation International, which owns 23 cemeteries and funeral homes in Maryland, opened the Life Celebration Center in Elkridge, the state's first industry-based bereavement center.

The Levinson Bros. initiative reflects the funeral home's desire to expand its role to the closely knit Jewish community it has served since 1892.

"We feel that a funeral home's responsibility shouldn't end with the burial," said Ira J. Levinson, vice president of Sol Levinson & Bros. "We feel very strongly that our responsibility should be to help people to get through this process of bereavement through all these programs."

The lecture series was named after Ira Levinson's cousin, Irvin B. Levinson, who died of a heart attack last year at age 49. Jay Levinson also is a cousin of Ira's.

Janet B. Kurland, director of Community Family Services for Jewish Family Services, said her agency has had an informal working relationship with the funeral home for years.

"We have worked hand in hand with Sol Levinson for years and years. They call us, we call them," she said. "This is a first in terms of a formal collaborative effort on behalf of the greater community. The loss of Irvin has triggered the impetus to do something in his memory."

Jay I. Levinson will speak on "A New Model of Bereavement."

Jay Levinson said that in his practice, he focuses on understanding the grieving process as a natural part of life, bucking the tendency to view it as an episode of clinical depression. Taking a page from his mentor, existential psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who wrote "Man's Search for Meaning," Levinson views the experience of grief as a loss of meaning in a person's life, a spiritual crisis, an existential vacuum.

"All too often, what you see is the family doctor coming in to medicate the grieving person to calm them down," he said. In his model, "the idea is to teach people to face unavoidable crises of meaning or life crises with courage. Allow them to feel bad, teach them how to rebuild their lives again."

The other components of the bereavement program are the Marjorie Levinson Memorial Library, which has about 500 volumes on death, dying and bereavement; and an after-care program to serve families that will be offered on a semiannual basis.

"This will include the community, rabbis, social workers and psychologists with expertise in death and dying," Ira Levinson said. The program will allow families "to get information, comfort and referrals for more specific needs."

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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