Better support for people in mourning

(L-to-R) Roméo Dallaire, Frédéric Bouchard, Edward Ou Jin Lee, André-Anne Parent, Céline Bellot, Gérard Veilleux, Raymond Lalande, Lisette Jean and Guy Breton.

(L-to-R) Roméo Dallaire, Frédéric Bouchard, Edward Ou Jin Lee, André-Anne Parent, Céline Bellot, Gérard Veilleux, Raymond Lalande, Lisette Jean and Guy Breton.

Credit: Benjamin Seropian

In 5 seconds

A new research chair on the grieving process has been set up at UdeM's School of Social Work thanks to a donation from Quebec's Monbourquette Foundation.

"Grief is a significant human experience that causes great upheaval in our lives and creates a variety of needs."

So says Edward Ou Jin Lee, co-holder of the new Jean Monbourquette Chair of Social Support for the Bereaved with his colleague André-Anne Parent. As co-chairs, the two professors at the School of Social Work of Université de Montréal's Faculty of Arts and Science will serve a five-year term.

The Chair was made possible thanks to a donation from Quebec's Monbourquette Foundation; it will be spread over a six-year period, and augmented with additional sums to ensure sustainability. The goal is to develop, share and promote research, training and pedagogy in supporting the bereaved during the grieving process.

"We want to create close links, both within the School and within other universities, between researchers and the social and community services community," Lee said at the inauguration at UdeM last month.

Continuing education also important

"This is a chair of research and teaching but also of continuing education," said Parent. "Indeed, courses developed at the Monbourquette Training Centre are now offered at UdeM. We wish to highlight social support that is defined by both formal and informal social networks, including friends and family, as well as community and public services. Our intention is to link these elements to the grieving process according to the eight steps described by Jean Monbourquette," she added, referring to the Quebec priest and psychologist after whom the foundation is named.

Alongside efforts to answer the questions of "how to better support people in mourning," training will be integrated into the early career path of future social workers, scholarships will be offered to graduate students and several research internships will also be set up as part of the Chair. The objective is to foster the development of the skills of a large pool of professionals in working with bereaved people and their families. "The Chair's mission is to strengthen the education, university training and intervention capacities of social workers and health professionals," said Céline Bellot, director of the School of Social Work.

First, the researchers will review the scientific literature to better understand the reality of loss, bereavement and the support needs of bereaved people. They will then map the diversity of practices, challenges and ongoing work at the national level, in order to gain a better understanding of the scientific communities involved in this type of research and their interrelationships. This approach will be supported by the development of workshops that will enrich the current understanding of practices and issues for the benefit of the university community – including practitioners, researchers and students –  those who support the bereaved, and the bereaved themselves.

Who was Jean Monbourquette?

A psychologist, priest, professor and author, Jean Monbourquette (1933-2011) began his career in Quebec as a psychologist in the field of grief. His first book on grief, Aimer, perdre et grandir (How to Love Again), published in 1994, has been translated into a dozen languages and sold over a million copies worldwide.

Although each bereavement is unique, most experts agree that its trajectory begins with a period of shock and denial, followed by a period of disorganization, which generally gives way to a phase of reorganization. Based on his clinical observations, Monbourquette detailed an eight-step process that covers the entire grieving experience. Experienced dynamically, the steps are: shock, denial, expressing emotions, doing tasks related to bereavement, searching for meaning, sharing forgiveness, "letting go" and dealing spiritually with what's left behind. The particularity of Monbourquette's approach was to combine the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the process.

Dedicated to the cause and support of the bereaved, the Monbourquette Foundation was created in tribute to his life's work. Today, the Foundation is dedicated to raising funds to continue that work, notably through initiatives like the creation of the new Chair of Social Support for the Bereaved.

"We are very touched by this generous donation from the Monbourquette Foundation," said Frédéric Bouchard, dean of UdeM's Faculty of Arts and Science. "The extraordinary work carried out by the Foundation over the past several years has been structuring in many respects and the School of Social Work will proudly build on these achievements to continue the Foundation's work."

For her part, Bellot singled out Foundation chairman Gérard Veilleux, as well as Lisette Jean, founder and chairwoman of the Maison Monbourquette centre in Outremont, for praise. "I would like to warmly thank Ms. Jean and Mr. Veilleux for the trust they have placed in the School of Social Work of Université de Montréal," she said.



3 questions to the Chair's initiators

Lisette Jean heads the Maison Monbourquette and Gérard Veilleux chairs the Monbourquette Foundation. In August 2018, the Foundation decided to redirect its funding towards the creation of the Jean Monbourquette Chair of Social Support for the Bereaved, at Université de Montréal. We asked them to talk about the project.

Why did you choose Université de Montréal?

After 15 years of unconditional commitment to supporting the bereaved, the Maison and the Foundation had reached a crossroads. We naturally turned to an academic partner because of the humanistic values that are embodied in the transmission of knowledge. For us, Université de Montréal was the best choice: the quality of its teams and programs, its commitment to its community and its notoriety are solid assets for a foundation like ours. We must acknowledge the great openness of Céline Bellot, director of the School of Social Work, and Frédéric Bouchard, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, for their vision of the broad role that a university must play in society. Thanks to the participation of UdeM, we are confident that in the long term, the creation of the Jean Monbourquette Chair of Social Support for the Bereaved will not only help more people in mourning, but will also improve society as a whole by alleviating the social effects of an experience everyone goes through.

What is the link between the Monbourquette Foundation and the man himself?

More than 30 years ago, I [Lisette Jean] was in a serious car accident and, around the same time, my mother died suddenly. After a long convalescence, I wrote to Jean Monbourquette, a priest, psychologist and writer who was very involved with people in mourning. In response, he invited me to the first bereavement support group he facilitated; after that, I helped him in the support-training sessions he was running. I had discovered that it's possible to get help while you're in mourning and rebuild your life.
My meeting Jean Monbourquette had such a big impact on me that I promised to create an organization in his honour to welcome and comfort the bereaved. Over the years, we've developed a number of services: a directory of the various bereavement follow-up resources in Quebec, a toll-free helpline (1-888-LE DEUIL), individual and group meetings, and the Monbourquette Training Centre, which, since 2010, has offered numerous conferences and training sessions on bereavement, mainly for professionals in support. For 15 years, Maison Monbourquette's team of employees and volunteers has carried out nearly 35,000 interventions with people affected by the loss of a child, spouse, parent, friend or relative.

Why try to advance knowledge of social support for the bereaved?

Although everyone is affected by grief and death, both subjects are still widely considered taboo in our society. With the decline in religious practice, the breakdown of families, the loss of a sense of community and the frantic acceleration of our pace of life, it has become more difficult to take the time to go through and get to grips with the suffering caused by the loss of a loved one. Yet the need for support during bereavement is ever-present.
Each bereavement is unique: it is experienced differently depending on the circumstances of death, the personality and beliefs of the bereaved, their social network, their relationship with the deceased, their personal and cultural beliefs, etc. This is why it is so important to better understand grief and its collateral effects, both individual and social. The work carried out by the holders of the Jean Monbourquette Chair will shed new light on the issue of social support for bereaved people and help caregivers offer better support. We are pleased that the continuation of Jean Monbourquette's life work is now assured and that this Chair perfectly combines the promises of knowledge and the sense of human values.

About the Jean Monbourquette Chair of Social Support for the Bereaved

A generous donation from the Monbourquette Foundation made possible the creation of the Jean Monbourquette Chair of Social Support for the Bereaved, a new study and research initiative dedicated to the social support of the bereaved, at Université de Montréal's School of Social Work. The first Chair holders are André-Anne Parent and Edward Ou Jin Lee, both professors at the School.

The Chair was launched at UdeM on Feb. 11, 2019 in the presence of retired Canadian senator and Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire; the project's initiators, Foundation chairman Gérard Veilleux and Maison Monbourquette chairwoman Lisette Jean; and Guy Breton, rector of Université de Montréal.

"The creation of the Jean Monbourquette Chair of Social Support for the Bereaved is a courageous and visionary decision on the part of the Université de Montréal," Veilleux and Jean said in a joint statement. "It signals a rapprochement between knowledge and humanism, two essential elements for the harmonious and balanced progress of any society. Grief is a growing concern, and we are pleased that the mission of the Monbourquette Foundation is now supported by an institution that has a strong social impact. While ensuring the sustainability of Jean Monbourquette's work, the establishment of this new teaching and research chair will benefit not only more bereaved people, but the entire community."

Added Breton: "Jean Monbourquette practiced, in his own words, 'medicine from the heart.' And it is this work that the Chair that we are inaugurating today will continue, drawing on the expertise of our School of Social Work to develop new ideas and disseminate them throughout society. I warmly thank the Monbourquette Foundation for the great confidence it has shown in us through this donation."

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