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Guest Blog Post: Reflecting on the Tragedy in Orlando


Jun 14, 2016

Guest Blogger: Jill Johnson-Young

ASD is pleased to share this month’s guest blog post in our new blog series from Jill Johnson-Young. The blog series is focused on aftercare, self care, and helping families with grief recovery. Jill Johnson-Young, LCSW, is a clinical therapist in private practice in Riverside, California. She is the co-owner of Central Counseling Services, where she specializes in grief and loss for adults and children, as well as individual and family therapy. Jill is certified as a Grief Recovery Specialist through the Grief Recovery Institute and has more than a decade of experience as a medical social worker in hospice both in California and Florida. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of South Florida and is licensed in California. Jill is a member of the Orange Belt Funeral Director’s Association. Her passion is seeing people work through the losses they experience and finding a new path where they can thrive in a life they choose. In this post, Jill reflects on the recent Orlando shooting tragedy and offers some words of encouragement for those in FL who are assisting with mortuary recovery efforts.

Reflecting on the Tragedy in Orlando

It’s been a long weekend at our house, as it has for many across the nation and world. Orlando. It used to mean Disney World and Harry Potter. Now, it means the worst massacre in our recent history. My funeral director immediately checked for emails to see if the mortuary disaster teams were being mobilized. We learned that 20 Florida funeral directors caught flights or drove to Orlando to assist the local Coroner’s Office when the governor declared a disaster. I truly do not want to imagine what those inside that bar saw, or the cell phones they heard ringing that would never again be answered by their owners.

As a grief professional, it meant so much more. Florida is my second home. My dad was raised in rural Central Florida not far from Orlando. I lived there for a decade. I started in hospice there, and did my initial grief training there. I have a master’s from USF in Tampa. Those scenes were home to me. I remember Florida as a place I love and a place where it was unsafe for many groups to be out in public. The LGBT community faced discrimination, violence (on a regular basis), and even the Klan showing up for events: on horseback in full regalia. Talk about intimidating.

It was a state where when I lost a young patient to AIDS, we had to call around to find a mortuary that would help, and family would fight over remains- because partners had no standing, and frequently lost everything after a death. Yet it was also a place where the sand hill cranes would talk to you if you called back to them, where eagles nested on utility poles, where after the first Space Shuttle disaster, there was a countdown on the radio for every liftoff. Entire highways would come to a collective stop as we all got out of our cars to watch that shuttle soar into the sky, waiting until it was safely on its way. I found the funeral directors I could count on to be respectful and caring for families who were outside the “norm.” I treasured them.

Fast forward as I watched the scenes unfold in Orlando from Riverside, California. My community is less than ten miles from the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center, site of the shooting in December of last year. My agency arranged for free counseling for survivors of that horror – those most impacted as well as those who were on site and faced the day as it unfolded, trapped in their offices, some with small children. One of those killed was a local teacher, who left behind hundreds of grieving students and players on the teams he coached. Suddenly, my two worlds collided at the hands of a mass murderer.

And I worried. What if there are still not enough funeral directors in Florida who can reach out and simply be there for those families? What if the generations of bias comes up in those conversations? And how do you say that out loud without offending those who are facing a terrible time in the coming days? The professionals working long days and nights, making notifications, sorting it all out, trying to make arrangements and reconstruct damaged loved ones so families can have a much needed last goodbye have more than enough on their hands right now. I am sure the ASD staff does as well.

Then I read Caleb Wilde’s post on Confessions of a Funeral Director. Bless him. Allow me to share it, and if you haven’t read his Facebook page I highly recommend it.

“As you know, last night 50 people were killed and over 50 injured when a gunman opened fire at a gay club in Orlando. This act of terror did more than affect the lives and families of those who were murdered, it pierces the hearts of the entire LGBTQ community, and whispers words of “you aren’t enough” all over again.

All of us who have been able to overcome any type of shame, have done so through the power of love because love has this uncanny ability to be the sun to shame’s darkness. So, I want to say to my lovely friends in the LGBTQ community, you are enough. You deserve to be loved. I love you. And you don’t deserve this hatred, terror or shame. ‪#‎OrlandoStrong‬‬‬.”

And so as I write this today, as calls roll in from those experiencing renewed grief from San Bernardino and other losses because of this tragedy, may I say that those in Orlando are so very lucky to have so many people willing to respond and support those facing these losses. I know from conversations occurring across the country that your fellow funeral directors are thinking of you and wishing they could help.

If you are in Florida, please take time to let you own emotional response occur. Take time to talk to your children and grandchildren about what happened on their developmental level, and reassure them that this was not something that they should worry about occurring, but that they can be sad for those who lost loved ones and sad that someone would ever do this. And for all the rest of us, as we absorb another mass shooting, let’s hold our own loved ones close and talk through the feelings you are experiencing. Remember that the families you serve are being hit with even more grief this month, and that those you have served in the past may need extra support as this story touches their own unfinished grief process.

Check back next month for another guest post from Jill Johnson-Young.

<strong>Be sure to read Jill’s Other ASD Guest Blog Posts:</strong>
<a href=""><strong>#1: Providing Grief Support to Families</strong></a>
<a href=""><strong>#2: Self-Care Moments for the Funeral Profession</strong></a>
<a href=""><strong>#3: Tips for Handling Funeral Home Stress</strong></a>
<a href=""><strong>#4: Supporting the Children of Funeral Directors</strong></a>
<a href=""><strong>#5: Hearts with Ears for the New Year</strong></a>
<a href=""><strong>#6: When a Funeral Director Buries Family</strong></a>
<a href=""><strong>#7: Challenging Careers Create Their Own Humor</strong></a>
<a href=""><strong>#8: Demystifying the Funeral Profession </strong></a>
<p><a href=""><strong>#9: A Message To Funeral Directors - Your Family Matters Most <br type="_moz" /></strong><br type="_moz" /></a></p>

Everyone here at ASD is stunned and heartbroken over the senseless acts of violence that occurred in Orlando last weekend. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and the people of Orlando. We are also thinking of all of the mortuary professionals down in Orlando who are assisting with emergency response efforts and helping to identify victims Giving answers to families without delay is imperative after such a horrific tragedy occurs. We can’t imagine how difficult this task must be and we thank you for answering the call to help.


About The Author

Jess Farren (Fowler)

Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at


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