Communal Grieving Can Offer Peace

by Jane Baker Segelken, MA, MSW, part of the Social Work team at Hospicare & Palliative Care Services

At a time when rituals surrounding the death of a loved one seem to be lacking, one of the true gifts Hospicare gives the community is the opportunity to grieve with others in a way that feels supportive. It is a benefit that I and so many others have taken advantage of over the years, and importantly it’s available to anyone whether the person who died was a Hospicare patient or not. Grieving communally has a long history, as can be seen in the traditions of many cultures.

From Shiva to Day of the Dead

In Jewish practice, for example, mourners sit Shiva for seven days as a way to begin the spiritual and emotional healing process. One aspect of sitting Shiva is when those closest to the deceased welcome relatives, friends, co-workers, and others into their home for what is known as “making a shiva call.” The primary purpose is to provide a time when mourners join together sharing stories about the person who died and offering words of comfort. Each year on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, mourners burn a yahrzeit (“year time”) candle for an entire day.

Known as the second line or jazz funeral, New Orleans’ ritual funeral procession is essentially a parade where mourners and celebrants follow the casket, family members, and musicians who play a somber dirge as they work their way through the city’s streets to the cemetery. After the burial is complete, more joyous music is played as returning mourners celebrate the deceased’s life. Stemming back to slavery, the music and dancing that are part this tradition allow each participant to express their emotions in their own unique way while sharing their grief experience with others. Annually, many New Orleans residents celebrate the more subdued All Saints Day by visiting and decorating cemeteries.

Mexicans hold a vigil honoring the deceased with friends and family for one or two days, during which they eat, drink, and pray. Following this wake, the person who died is buried in his or her clothing with important possessions. The tradition Mexico is most known for is the “Day of the Dead” (el Día de los Muertos), an annual grief ritual that is observed by all Mexicans as a celebration to honor those who have died. Beautiful altars built by the families are decorated with flowers, candles, the deceased’s favorite foods, and pan de muerto, known as Day of the Dead bread. In addition to being held in the home, the celebration may take place in the local cemetery where families might picnic, play music, or spend the night. The goal of honoring the dead this way is to keep them from being forgotten.

Grief, Out Loud

What all these traditions and others offer are ways to express grief out loud — to mourn in our own way and on our own time in the company of others who are also grieving. For me, talking to others who understood how sad I felt helped me feel validated and that much closer to healing. Grieving communally allows us to speak and show our sorrow and ultimately feel less lonely. It is a way to feel connected.

Many grieving people say they feel like society gives a deadline at which point they are expected to “be over” their grief. A friend of mine whose husband had died said she felt so alone because just a few months after he passed away people stopped asking how she was doing. When she tried to talk about her spouse, others changed the subject. The implication was that she needed to “get over it” and “move on.” The reality is that there is no proscribed period of mourning, something my friend learned when she began attending groups and events where she felt heard. Grief has its own often non-linear timeline and is uniquely expressed by each person.

Hospicare Offers Fellowship to the Bereaved

The communal grieving opportunities at Hospicare include ongoing support groups, workshops, and public memorial events. Participating in these programs provides individuals with the opportunity to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences with others in similar situations and can enhance the healing process and reduce a sense of isolation. Information about the available programs and other services, including one-to-one counseling, can be found at https://www.hospicare.org/grief-support or by calling 607-272-0212.

Upcoming Event: Illuminations, A Community Memorial

Join Hospicare on June 9 from 7:30 – 9:00 pm for the annual Illuminations Community Memorial. Enjoy the Hospicare gardens, light a luminaria in memory of a loved one, and share in a special program of remembrance featuring live music, poetry, and concluding with a sunset rendition of “Taps” alongside the pond. The event will be entirely outdoors, rain or shine! Light refreshments will be served. In case of inclement weather, event will be held under a tent. Social distancing and masks are encouraged. Attendance is free. Register at hospicare.org/event/illuminations-community-memorial-2/ or contact us with questions at events@hospicare.org or 607-272-0212.

Hospicare Volunteers Develop Wonderful, Close Relationships

by Jane Baker Segelken, MA, MSW, part of the Social Work team at Hospicare

For Cortland County resident Conni Bentley, volunteering for Hospicare is fulfilling because she’s making a real difference in someone’s life. “The happiness and satisfaction that comes from providing comfort to others is enlightening and rewarding. The more volunteer work I do, the greater my overall happiness,” she said.

Volunteers like Conni who provide five percent of patient care are part of Hospicare’s interdisciplinary team of providers offering support to patients at the end of their lives. Volunteers work in collaboration with Hospicare’s registered nurses, social workers, spiritual care leaders, home health aides, administrative staff, and medical director. What volunteering for Hospicare gives individuals is an opportunity to offer many needed services to the organization and/or the patients and their families.

Hospicare volunteers include administrative support volunteers who work in the office or remotely to assist staff in all areas; community support volunteers who help with peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives or support events; and direct patient support volunteers who assist patients and families in a variety of ways. Currently, Hospicare is most in need of patient support volunteers, especially in Cortland County.

Patient Support Volunteers

Patient support volunteers provide emotional support and companionship to hospice patients and their families. These volunteers visit patients in a variety of locations such as a private home, a nursing home, or an assisted living facility. They spend time sitting quietly or talking with patients; playing games or watching a movie with them; helping them with small household tasks, running errands, or picking up groceries. Sometimes a volunteer will help with a personal project, such as organizing photographs or recording stories. At other times they may bring an instrument and play music. In all cases, the activities are driven by the patient and what he or she believes will be of most value. Visits might be a quick drop in or may last several hours. It’s important to know that volunteers do not provide any medical or hands-on care. Other services volunteers may provide include:

  • Tuck In: a weekly phone call to help identify weekend needs and/or a friendly phone call during the week to chat
  • Pampering: setting or brushing hair, rubbing lotion into a patient’s hands or feet, or painting fingernails
  • Massage: licensed massage therapists offer relaxing massage to patients
  • Reiki Masters: certified reiki masters offer healing energy work to patients
  • Threshold Choir: trained singers (in small groups or solo) offer comforting music to patients and their families
  • Vigil: offering compassionate presence with a loved one in the last few days
  • Grief Support: families receive supportive phone calls and mailings
  • Landscape volunteers: help take care of the grounds including weeding and filling the bird feeders

Conni has served as a tuck-in volunteer, which she says involves “friendly contact with patients by telephone to ensure they have enough meds and supplies for the weekend. Calls are made on Thursday so the patient’s nurse can schedule a visit if needed on Friday to check on the patient or to deliver supplies. Even though the contact is made by telephone, wonderful and close relationships develop with the patient, family member, and/or caregiver,” said Conni.

Having a volunteer as part of the care team is meaningful for patients and families because they offer an extra personal touch of support. “Volunteers are an essential part of the team, offering a compassionate presence at a vulnerable time,” said Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services. “Showing up and meeting patients and families where they are is a win/win for all involved.”

Becoming a Volunteer

How do people become Hospicare volunteers? Many who consider volunteering are already knowledgeable about hospice services because they had a family member or friend who received care. Others may know of the organization because they work in the healthcare field. However, many people are brand new to the concept of hospice. All volunteers have a desire to assist patients as they near the end of their lives with a unique level of solace, camaraderie, and support. To be successful, one needs to be compassionate, empathetic, and a good listener.

Interested in learning more about volunteering? All Hospicare volunteers are required to go through a specialized training, which is held at various times throughout the year. For more information, contact Wendy Yettru at wyettru@hospicare.org or 607-272-0212.

How to Help in Times of Grief

by Jane Baker Segelken, MA, MSW, part of the Social Work team at Hospicare

How many times have you wanted to help a grieving loved one or friend but wondered how? In general, there are no right or wrong approaches. The more we understand grief and its path — and gain insight into the various ways people grieve — the better able we are to respond to the needs of the bereaved.

Whether our loss is the death of a loved one or a pet, or the demise of a job, a divorce, or an ability, what we feel — whether it is pain, relief, or another emotion — is natural. That doesn’t mean that grief can’t become unhealthy — it can. The key is to learn to move forward with grief, as writer Nora McInerny shares in a Ted Talk. On her website she advises “The cure for grief is not ‘be not sad’ and the cure for anger isn’t ‘be unangry!’ It’s feeling all of the things, even the uncomfortable ones, without judging yourself for them.”

How individuals grieve is a highly personal, sometimes complicated, process. For many people, one of the most challenging aspects of grieving is their relationships. Grieving individuals may fall into one of two categories: the person who says they prefer being left alone while grieving, and the one who doesn’t want to be alone and seeks out connections with others.

Individuals who intentionally self-isolate do so for a variety of reasons. They may not want to cry in public or they may worry that if they talk about their grief, others will feel uncomfortable. Sometimes people realize that the activities they once enjoyed don’t have the same appeal, or the endeavor may make them sad because it was something they liked to do with the person who is no longer in their life.

On the other hand, there is the person who intentionally seeks out the company of others, hoping for support and understanding they aren’t receiving elsewhere. Support groups, such as the ones offered at Hospicare, are a great way to find camaraderie with others who are mourning similar losses. The individual who looks to others may also want to keep as much of their usual routine as possible while they are grieving by engaging in work, volunteer activities, or hobbies.

Regardless, the key to helping a loved one who’s grieving is to not worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. The important thing is that you listen to what they need and let them know that you’re there to help in whatever way feels right, even if it means stepping back temporarily.

4 Specific things you can do to help:

Author Megan Devine writes that no one can know another’s grief in the way the bereaved is experiencing it. As supportive friends and family, we are looking from the outside in. Most individuals want to be understood, not cheered up, she advises. For those reasons, Devine writes, “how we talk about grief matters.”

The following tips offer a guide to how we can nurture our relationships with those who are grieving.

  • Understand the grieving process. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Don’t tell your friend or loved one what they should be doing or feeling. Unless you fear they are a danger to themselves or to others, let them ride the emotions with their erratic highs and lows.
  • Connect.  Don’t let fears about saying or doing the wrong thing stop you from reaching out, but don’t be pushy. Make sure your loved one/friend knows you’re ready to listen. Be willing to sit in silence. Encourage the bereaved person to be kind to themselves, and others to be kind to them.
  • Offer opportunities. Help your loved one/friend keep a routine even if it’s scheduling a regular time for the two of you to take a walk or set up check-ins. It’s important to avoid saying things such as “you are so strong,” as comments like that don’t allow the bereaved to show their true feelings.
  • Remember the anniversary. Tell your loved one/friend he or she is on your mind on the day of the loss. Ask how they’re coping. Share memories, photographs, and stories. Cook a favorite meal or listen to music together.

Hospicare Welcomes New Staff: HR Manager and Two Team Leads

Over the winter and spring we’ve welcomed several new team members to Hospicare, and we’d like to give you a chance to get to know them:

Stephanie received her Bachelor’s degree from the ILR School at Cornell and her JD from Northeastern University School of Law. She is a licensed attorney in both Massachusetts and New York and loves being able to use her legal training and employment law background every day working in HR. She also loves working in HR because she enjoys helping people navigate work challenges and feel engaged and fulfilled in their jobs.

Stephanie is inspired working at Hospicare in particular because the staff lead with their hearts. She holds a deep respect for Hospicare’s mission and says that “working here every day, I am reminded of the truly important things in life.” Having grown up in Ithaca, she has been a part of the Hospicare community long before joining as staff. Her grandmother’s memorial was held in the Great Room in 2005, and she participated in Women Swimmin’ in 2010. Stephanie loves podcasts, coffee, yoga, hiking, camping, and her cat.

Christina has been a nurse for almost fourteen years. In that time, she has experienced many different types of nursing. She started at Hospicare in 2009 as a PN and worked until 2015. She then worked at Bridges Cornell Height as a DON, Administrator, CM, and janitor on the weekends. At Bridges, she trained her staff to think as hospicare aids and nurses. She returned to Hospicare because she loves this organization and is excited to be back.

Christina is a lifelong Tompkins County resident. She comes from a long line of Ithacans with a huge extended family. She lives with her husband of 27 years, four children, flock of chickens, and rescue dog. She loves gardening, cooking, working on puzzles, and crocheting.

Julie, RN-BSN, has been a Licensed Massage Therapist for fifteen years. While practicing massage and raising her kids, she became a birth doula and dabbled a great deal in home birth. She also went back to school and became a nurse. She worked in labor and delivery for a while, then in a primary care practice as a nurse manager and perinatal nurse. After transitioning into hospice care work, she “fell in love with a new kind of nursing, caring, and compassion during some of the most intimate and critical times of a person’s life.” She is thrilled to have found a new home working at Hospicare.

Julie is an original west-cost gal who came to upstate NY as a young girl and has migrated back and forth several times throughout her life. She is a wife, a mother of three adult kids, and an “Oma” to four beautiful grandchildren with one more on the way. Julie loves all four seasons and finds solace in horseback riding, quilting, nature, gardening, camping, hiking, and being near all bodies of water. She also loves to write and hopes to publish a book one day.

Hospicare Welcomes New Staff in Development and Community Relations

Over the winter and spring we’ve welcomed several new team members to Hospicare, and we’d like to give you a chance to get to know them:

Emily Hopkins is an army veteran and a graduate of West Virginia University and Johns Hopkins University. She has worked in fundraising and institutional advancement for many years. In her eight years at Cornell University, she was a writer in Principal Gifts, Major Gifts, and University Communications. She was the senior editor of Cornell’s Ezra magazine and later helped raise money and organize stewardship and events for Cornell’s Prison Education Program.

Before moving to Ithaca, Emily was a magazine editor at Scholastic (Instructor, Afterschool, Choices) and a fact checker at the New Yorker magazine, where a dozen or so of her cartoons were published between 2004 and 2008.  As a volunteer, she has served as vice president of the board for Cinemapolis and as president of the Tompkins County Public Library Foundation Board of Directors. She’s also done fundraising work for the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, Ithaca Children’s Garden, the College Initiative at OAR, and the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes. She is author of the popular illustrated weekly newsletter Emily Writes Back, “an advice column for brilliant people.”  

Kimari has worked in higher education for over twenty years. In addition to teaching English classes, she has held a variety of administrative roles including writing center director, faculty advisor to the honor society, and writing editor for the TC3 literary magazine. Coordinating events like induction ceremonies and educational programming has always been one of the highlights of her work. Kimari enjoys volunteering for local causes, and she is a poet and avid traveler who loves meeting people.   

Brenna Fitzgerald is a writer, editor, and coach empowering people to discover and nourish their most authentic voice. She teaches yoga and meditation and hosts a podcast called Creative Recovery where she explores creativity as an agent of healing and social change in conversation with people of diverse backgrounds and identities. 

Brenna has lived and worked in many different countries and loves learning about other cultures. Some of her previous professional roles have included teaching English in Japan, serving as a social justice educator, and most recently working as a Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Cornell Southeast Asia Program.

Brenna is driven to create impact in the world through her writing and through working directly with people in a healing capacity. Recently, Brenna had the honor of facilitating a workshop for the Hospicare community called “Recovering your Creative Spirit in Grief.” She is thrilled to be joining Hospicare as the Communications Coordinator and to be working with others also committed to helping people understand the importance of hospice, palliative care, and grief support.

“I have witnessed firsthand the power of Hospicare’s mind-body-spirit approach to supporting people at the end of their life and in grief. It is a true honor for me to join an organization such as Hospicare whose mission and commitment to serving others is in alignment with my own heart’s calling.”