How to Support a Grieving Friend

By Laura Ward

A poignant piece of fiction by blogger Kathryn Wallace has been making the rounds on social media.  In the story, Pooh and Piglet realize that they haven’t seen Eeyore in a long time and decide to check in on him.  In a glum voice, Eeyore explains that right now he feels, “rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All” and that is why he hasn’t bothered them, because he assumes that they would not want to hang out with someone who is feeling this way. To Eeyore’s surprise, Pooh and Piglet sit down on either side of him.  The three friends sit in silence and almost imperceptibly Eeyore starts to feel a tiny bit better because Pooh and Piglet are there.  No more; no less.

As a bereavement counselor, I find that grievers often feel a similar sense of isolation.  Friends who were initially very supportive and present following a death return to their own lives. Meanwhile, grievers struggle to cope with their new reality and a roller coaster of emotions.  It is common for bereaved people to express frustration with their ability to cope “effectively” and the resulting loss of esteem can lead them to assume that others could not possibly understand or accept them in their current state.  In the wake of loss, the life, identity and worldview of the grieving person has changed dramatically.  They are having to reorganize themselves around the death of a person who had become an integral part of their identity, a buoy on their life journey.  Their struggle to adjust, although intense, is a normal part of grief.  Mourning the death of someone with whom we have had a significant attachment is a natural, biological process, one which occurs over years, not days or months and is a necessary part of integrating the loss.  The path through grief is fraught with difficult and complex emotions.  This path is one that we will all walk at some point in our lives, it’s not something we choose, but rather something that arises from having loving relationships.

Research has clearly demonstrated that humans are automatically wired to be both helpful and empathetic.  When someone we care about is grieving, we genuinely want to find a way to offer comfort, but we may struggle to find the right sentiment or gesture.  The truth is that there is no “fix” for grief, no perfect thing to say that will make it better, and it’s true that you might say the wrong thing even with the very best of intentions.  Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. explains that companioning a grieving friend is “going into the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out”.  In grief, the wilderness of the soul can be fraught with feelings of uncertainty, a loss of control, ambiguity, sadness and anxiety.  As humans, these are all emotions we tend to avoid, naturally preferring the light and predictable.  Therefore, our instinct is often to help our friend find their way out of this uncomfortable place rather than simply be there with them.  There is no greater gift we can give another person than to accept them, exactly where they are at any moment, without expectation.  Be comforted in knowing that your friend has an innate ability to heal, albeit on their own timeline.  Your role is to be responsive and respectful of their unique process and show up in whatever way you are able. 

What role you play depends on the type of relationship you and your friend have established.  Are you someone who can elicit a quick laugh or enjoy a night on the town? It may be a while before your friend will be able to feel joy, but at some point, they will need to take a break from their grief, have fun and share that laugh.  Be patient but keep in touch with your friend and let them know that you would like to spend time with them when they are ready.  Verbalize your support if they need to cancel or leave an outing early.  Are you someone who shows your love by doing things for others?  After a death, the list of tasks that need to be completed can be overwhelming. You can ease the burden by assisting with daily chores such as meals, lawn care and cleaning or by helping plan the funeral or memorial service.   Continue your offers of help long after the death and if it’s something that you can do without asking, then just do it.  Lastly, if you are a Pooh or a Piglet and have the capacity to journey into the wilderness with your friend, to sit silently and offer emotional comfort, then let love and tenderness lead the way. Regardless of the type of support you can provide a grieving friend, it matters, having people offer support during our darkest times is what gives us the strength to go on and is an integral part of our healing process.

16th Annual Women Swimmin’ – we made a splash!

WOW! We did it! YOU did it!!

340 lake and lap swimmers, 170 escort boaters, 172 volunteers, hundreds of spectators, 4,000+ donors… and more than $415,000 raised for Hospicare & Palliative Care Services!

A special message from Kim De Rosa, Hospicare’s Executive Director.

Our hearts are full with gratitude and awe, and we are glowing. We hope you are, too. This community is exceptional!

What a year! At the last minute we found out our bus company had gone out of business, but we were rescued by Ithaca City School District. Then we had some late morning wind that made for some challenging swimming and boating, but we are happy to say that every last swimmer was able to complete her swim.
We did it, and we raised over $435,000 dollars!
Escort Boaters and members of the Kayak Safety Team are essential parts of the event, and we could not do it without you!
Whether you were picking up trash, signing in swimmers, or taking donations, VOLUNTEERS are an essential part of the event, and we could not do it without you!
A good time was had by all! Thank you to everyone for supporting Hospicare & Palliative Care Services!

Our New Accessible Paths

It’s been an exciting month here at our residence! We had an amazing crew of volunteers who worked together to build an accessible path to our pond-side gazebo.

Last fall, a gift from a generous local family lead to the construction of a beautiful gazebo at the edge of the pond at our residence on King Road. Unfortunately, the paths from the residence to the gazebo were in need of significant repair to make them safer and easier for wheelchair and walker access.

Many thanks to Alan Vogel for organizing, Connie O’Brien, Hospicare Nurse, for the hard work (and the delicious blueberry bread), all the volunteers (Ed Cope, Greg Van Ness, Andy Moore, Bruce Vann, Connie O’Brien, Andy Boehm, & Bruce Fearon). Plus, FLX Property Services and JC Smith for donating machinery.


AND to the generous support of our community through our Giving is Gorges fundraiser.

It truly takes a village! Please feel free to come by anytime and walk the new pathways and gardens.

Hospicare welcomes five new Board Members!

We are so fortunate to have such a committed board! We have five new board members who have been involved with Hospicare in one way or another for years, and are now strengthening their commitment to serving our community. Please join us in welcoming…

Barbara Ganzel, PhD, LMSW, is a clinical social worker and research neuroscientist, and has been the director of the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute since 2016.

She has 20+ years of experience in the study of stress and its impact on brain, body, and behavior across the lifespan. Previously, she was the principal investigator and director of a neuroimaging laboratory at Cornell University in Ithaca. She has published in Psychological Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, American Journal of Psychiatry,The Gerontologist, NeuroImage, Psychology and Aging, and the Journal of Traumatic Stress, among others.  Dr. Ganzel’s current work focuses on non-pharmacological ways to reduce stress and symptoms of psychological trauma for people at or near the end of life.  She is a founding member of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s Trauma-Informed Care Work group, whose goal is to define, educate, and support the provision of trauma‐informed end‐of‐life care.


Jeffrey S. Lewis, M.D.,D.M.D is a Board Certified Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon and Facial Cosmetic Surgeon who, after 32 years of operating on people, retired from clinical practice in December, 2018 to become full time Medical Director at Racker.

Dr. Lewis is the founder and director of the Cayuga Medical Center Cleft Palate and Facial Deformities team and clinic. Dr. Lewis was on the faculty of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry for over two decades, has authored several text book chapters in his specialties, has published in peer reviewed journals and has been a Board Examiner for the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. His private practice in Ithaca, Cayuga Facial Surgery, was opened in 1994 and he has been on the medical staff at Cayuga Medical Center since 1994. Dr. Lewis serves on the Ethics Committees for both Hospicare and Cayuga Medical Center and will now join the Board at Hospicare.

Dr. Lewis has been married to his wife, Kristin, for 33 years. They have a son, William, who recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University, and a daughter, Anna, who will matriculate at Elon University in August. In years past, Dr. Lewis toured the US extensively on motorcycles and has been an avid sailor. He plays bass guitar in the band Spy Donkey.


Joe Mareane, former Tompkins County Administrator, brings 40 years of experience in local government, policy, and economic development.

Joe is recently retired and looking forward to using his time and energy to support Hospicare’s mission to bring compassionate care to Tompkins and Cortland Counties.


Eliza Mulhern, a resident of Cortland, has been practicing law in New York State since the late 1990s. 

Eliza is Associate General Counsel and Vice President of Compliance at CFCU Community Credit Union.  She is responsible for the oversight of the Credit Union’s Legal Department, Compliance Department and Information Security Department.  Eliza has been active in her community, serving on the Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins and Cortland Counties board for 6 years and volunteering with other various local organizations. 


Linda Plummer Wagenet is returning to the Board after being a member and Board Chair several years ago. She has served on the Ethics committee and the Women’s Swimmin’ committee in the past and is currently on the Finance committee.

Linda is retired from Cornell University. She is also Vice President of the Small Comforts Foundation and serves on the Water Resources Council of Tompkins County. Linda is originally from California and has family in Ithaca as well as Austin, TX.


Our volunteers are integral to the support we give to patients and families. In 2018, patient care volunteers – 121 in total – spent 4,042 hours supporting patients, caregivers and families. These trained volunteers were joined by 300+ community volunteers who serve on the Board or committees, help with fundraising initiatives and assist with events, including Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare. To find out information about getting more involved email wyettru@hospicare.org.

Hospicare Announces New Executive Director

The Board of Directors of Hospicare & Palliative Care Services is pleased to announce the successful hiring of a new Executive Director.  Kimberly De Rosa will join the Hospicare team at the end of April.

“The Board and staff are unified in their support of Kim as the next leader for Hospicare & Palliative Care Services,” said Loren Gardner, president of the Board of Directors.  “Kim’s 15 years of experience in senior leadership positions in healthcare and hospice has prepared her to lead Hospicare and its incredible and dedicated staff and volunteers as we work to provide end-of-life care to members of our community.”

For the past five years, De Rosa has served as the Director of Operations for Hospice and Palliative Care at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC.  In this role, De Rosa designed, led and implemented strategic initiatives and programs that increased productivity by 25% and patient satisfaction by 33%.  Prior to this position, she worked for a decade as the Director of Business Services for Hematology Oncology Associates of CNY.

De Rosa has a B.S. with a concentration in Business Administration from Capella University, and is slated to receive her Executive MBA from the Rochester Institute of Technology in May 2019.  She has been an active volunteer for the Big Brother, Big Sister Organization and Eblen Charities, and she is a current board member at Hospice of Western North Carolina.  Kim, her husband, and their two Labrador Retrievers look forward to relocating to the Finger Lakes, where they also can enjoy being closer to family.

De Rosa succeeds Dale Johnson, who served as Executive Director for Hospicare & Palliative Care Services for the past decade. Roger Sibley, former Executive Director of Franziska Racker Centers, has served as interim Executive Director since December.

Hospicare & Palliative Care Services serves residents of Cortland and Tompkins counties.  Our hospice team cares for patients’ medical, emotional and spiritual needs so they can more fully enjoy time with loved ones. Our palliative care team cares for people with life-limiting illnesses by relieving the burden of illness, enhancing the quality of life, and fulfilling the patient’s goals for comfort.  Finally, we provide bereavement support services to anyone in our service area who is grieving the death of a loved one, whether or not they died on hospice.

Anyone interested in learning more about our services and programs can call 607-272-0212 during our administrative business hours (M-F, 8:30am-4:30pm).

Out with the old; in with the new? A New Year’s reflection

My best friend of 30 years – the woman who knew more about me than just about any other human – died in 2017, just a few days after Thanksgiving. She had brain cancer, so her death wasn’t a surprise, but I still wasn’t prepared for the pain. At times, the grief felt so heavy on my chest that I wondered if I might suffocate.

At my best friend’s wedding, 1998

After the funeral, I shuffled through the busy holiday season, pretending I was okay. Close friends saw through the fake smile, and they checked in frequently. Their compassion and understanding are the only things that got me through all those parties and all that cheer.

The new year began, and people largely stopped asking me how I was doing, as though flipping the calendar to 2018 was a way to leave my grief in 2017. That’s ridiculous, of course, but I still felt alone.

As so many of you know, overcoming grief and moving forward is a lot of work. I could write a memoir about the time between those dark nights and August 27, when I started as Hospicare’s new Director of Development & Community Relations.

New years are often a natural time for reflection. There is no shortage of material as I survey these past 12 months, which includes my first four months at Hospicare.

For starters, I don’t feel alone anymore. That’s because of you.

Through your actions, your advocacy and your generosity, you show compassion for people in our community with life-limiting illnesses, and their families and friends.

You volunteer to serve and comfort patients and give loved ones a chance to run errands without worry. You make meals. You hold hands. You bring your therapy dogs to visit our residents, and never forget to stop by the office area for some cuddles.

You support each individual through the grieving process. While the calendar pages may continue to flip, you understand that grief is different for each person, and it can never be completely left behind.

You show up, even on holidays, to serve patients with a smile. You brave snow-packed roads to ensure that no family is without the support they need in a difficult time. You rise before the break of dawn to swim or boat across Cayuga Lake in the name of Hospicare.

You make contributions that ensure Hospicare can offer the very best of care. You gift us items from our wish list so that we are never without soft tissues, hot tea, or suet for the birds in the back yard. You ensure that no one is turned away at our residence because of a lack of funds.

You are Hospicare. You make our mission possible.

I joined Hospicare because I felt I had a desire to help raise awareness and funds for an organization that does so much for our community – work I got to see firsthand last fall as my friend’s life came to its end. I feel deeply honored and humbled to be here, and to work with and lead a department of talented and committed professionals.

The Development and Community Relations team has lofty ambitions for 2019. Lack of awareness of hospice and palliative care means too many people in our community aren’t accessing services that support and comfort. In the coming year, you’ll be seeing more communications, as well as an increased presence for Hospicare in Tompkins and Cortland counties.

In concert with those efforts will be the work we do to diversify our philanthropic portfolio.  Women Swimmin’ is an event that most nonprofits can only dream about, and it will be a part of the fabric of our fundraising energies for years to come.  At the same time, we’ll look to grow other areas, including seeking foundation grants and corporate sponsorships. We also want to launch a program to recognize those individuals who have named Hospicare in their wills.

Of the many things my best friend taught me, one of the most valuable lessons was how to live an authentic life. There’s no question in my mind that as I work at Hospicare, I am honoring her, our friendship, and the community that helped shape us both.

I look forward to sharing more about our work in the months to come, and I urge you to reach out to me with your ideas and connections.  I can be contacted at jgabriel@hospicare.org or 607-272-0212.

And finally, for those of you who are grieving a loss, no matter how recent, we are here for you. These post-holiday winter months can be difficult, and we invite you to reach out to us whenever you need support. You are not alone.

Thank you again for your commitment to compassionate end of life care, and for welcoming me so warmly into the Hospicare family. I wish you and yours a happy and peaceful start to the new year.

Hospice Foundation of Cortland County

The Hospice Foundation of Cortland County exists to provide comfort to people with life limiting illnesses, encouraging and supporting them and their families to live and experience each day fully.

In 2014, The Hospice Foundation of Cortland County and Hospicare & Palliative Care Services joined forces, and the partnership supports and promotes hospice services throughout Cortland County.

Dr. Pat Hayes has come to the end of his 6-year term as a board member for The Hospice Foundation of Cortland County. During his tenure, Pat was a member of the Buildings and Grounds committee, and also served as president for a year-long term.

“Pat has been a wonderful addition to our board with his medical background and compassion for endorsing Hospice in Cortland County,” said board president Barb Closson. “He is always willing to help out, and quick to say ‘I can take care of that’!”

The Hospice Foundation of Cortland County board is also welcoming back Gail Van Patten – a “super” volunteer who has already served two previous 6-year terms.

“Gail’s commitment to hospice is very clear,” said Barb Closson. “She is very grateful that she was able to utilize hospice services when she needed it for her family and recognizes the need for services in Cortland County.”

For more information about the Hospice Foundation of Cortland County, please visit https://www.hospicare.org/cortland-foundation/

Pictured are 2019 Hospice Foundation of Cortland County Members: Back row: Michael Kilmer, Gail Van Patten (Vice President), Bill Hopkins, Dianne Higgins (Treasurer), Kathy Boyland, Seated: Suzanne Riley, Barb Closson (President), Bev Ryan and Nancy Fuller.

My Gratitude for Mom and Muggsy…and You

These past few months have been some of our family’s most difficult. But in many ways, they have also been some of our best. As we head into the holidays — a hard time for many of us as we cope with memories of loved ones — I want to share my story with you, my Hospicare family.

My mom — known as Ruthie to all who loved her — lived a long, good life. An amazing, supportive mother to my brother and me, mom enjoyed spoiling her grandkids and great-grandkids.

Playing bridge, bowling, and a series of Boston terriers (all named Muggsy) kept her smiling and laughing. She was so committed to Syracuse University sports that she refused to consider giving up her season tickets until she was in her mid-90s. To support her beloved Orangemen, she never left a game before the final buzzer, no matter how painfully lopsided the score.

Mom enjoyed scotch and martinis. In fact, an extra-dry martini, straight up with a twist, was one of the last pleasures she enjoyed at Hospicare, thanks to the rapid and kind assistance of the staff of Northside Wine & Spirits in Ithaca. 

Last spring, at 98 years old, mom’s health began to decline. She and our family made the decision together to move her to Hospicare for her final days. In the residence, she could still be close to us while being cared for in a quiet, calm, supportive environment. The decision made a huge difference in her quality of life and in the quality of time our family had with her. Instead of worrying about logistics and details, we were able to focus on her and on us and on building happy final memories.

As a board member and the chair of our Development & Community Relations committee, I’m often in a position to talk about why I give to Hospicare. Over the years, I have gotten to see so many amazing examples of philanthropy in action —

We loved being able to dote on mom in the Hospicare residence, where all photos in this post were taken.

but of course, seeing your gifts put to work for my mom and our family brought it home in a striking and vivid way.

When you make a gift to Hospicare, you support patients and their families in many ways. You supply medications and medical equipment to make patients comfortable, and you soothe their souls with music and companionship. You provide meals, personal care and help with household tasks to ease the stress on caregivers. And you offer counseling and spiritual support to patients and bereavement services to their families as they transition to a new chapter in their lives.

Your gifts matter, and I hope you will join me in making a donation to Hospicare before the end of the year. Together, we ensure that every member of our community can live out their final days with peace and dignity, and that their families are emotionally supported through the journey.

I expect my grief will continue long into the new year, but my sadness is tempered by the wonderful laughs and sweet moments my family and I shared with mom in her final few months, thanks to Hospicare… and to you. Thank you!

(Make your end of year gift here, by sending a check to Hospicare, 172 East King Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, or by calling 607-272-0212.)

Mom enjoying the Hospicare grounds with her three grandchildren.

Dale Johnson Announces Retirement

Hospicare Executive Director Dale Johnson announced recently that he will retire March 15, 2019.

Dale has been with Hospicare for nine years after initially accepting an interim position as executive director and we are so grateful for his work. “I did not intend to stay but found myself enjoying the agency, the people, and this community more than I expected,” Johnson said. “So I threw my hat in the ring and was hired as executive director shortly thereafter. It has been an incredible experience for me and a pleasure to work with such good people, the volunteers and dedicated professionals on the clinical and support staff.”

Board President Loren Gardner said a search for a new executive director is underway. “I will miss working with Dale and am grateful for his service over the last several years,” Gardner said. “I am pleased that we will have the benefit of his unique expertise until March. He has done a lot for our community through his work at Hospicare.”

Hospicare and Palliative Care Services provides services in Cortland and Tompkins counties to more than 500 patients and their family members annually.

During Dale’s tenure, he has overseen a complex and shifting state and federal regulatory environment. He has managed substantial agency growth with the 2014 merger of the Cortland County hospice program. In 2018 the Palliative Approach to Health (PATH) program was introduced, significantly expanding access to palliative care services.

Dale’s reputation for advancing the work of hospice and palliative care extends well beyond Cortland and Tompkins counties. He is a founding board member of the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa that has formed more than 75 partnerships between US and African hospices.

He recently was awarded the 2018 Carol Selinske Founders Award by the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York State (HPCANYS) for “outstanding efforts on behalf of hospice and the needs of the terminally ill in New York State.” He has served as HPCANYS chair, vice-chair, board member, and member of several committees. Since 2012, he has been co-chair of the Federal Legislative/Regulatory Committee. Trained as an attorney and as a member of the NYS bar, Dale has provided a legal perspective on pending legislation and is serving on a task force that will propose changes to the state’s regulatory process that leads to adding health care services and facilities.

Hospice Utilization Climbs in Both of the Counties We Serve

Our lives are largely guided by our values, and as an organization, Hospicare is no exception. One of our core values is excellence, which we define, in part, as a commitment to continuous improvement in everything we do. We expect and remain open to change, recognizing that it is inevitable and necessary for all growth. It’s this value that encourages us to take time to assess and reflect on how we’re doing, and it drives us to improve access to and the quality of our services over time.

Whenever we have the chance, we dive deep into data, which can help provide valuable insights, especially when we can compare other similar organizations to our own.

Recently, metrics were shared with us that showed we are growing in a very important area. A newly released Hospice Analytics report of 2016 Medicare data showed that community members who need our hospice services are more successful in finding and accessing them. The measure, which is referred to as “hospice utilization,” is measured by the percentage of Medicare deaths in each county that occurred on hospice services.

The data told an interesting story, and one that we are proud to share with you.  Across our service area, in both Tompkins and Cortland counties, hospice utilization increased between 2015 and 2016.  Tompkins county hospice utilization increased by 3.7% and Cortland county experienced a growth of 3.6%.

While we’re proud of these statistics, and the community relations and outreach work that no doubt contributed to it, we’re more happy that this growth means that more patients and loved ones gained access to our services.

Bottom line: we’re reaching more families in both of the counties we serve.

At the same time, we will not rest on our laurels.  Excelling in the context of hospice utilization in New York State is a great start, but we can always improve. We wouldn’t be embodying our value of excellence without looking to identify where we still have work to do.

One way we could be doing better is by getting involved with patients earlier, which would help introduce families to our services sooner and would increase the quality of life of patients in their final months. Like most New York hospices, our average length of stay is low compared to the national average. And this is where we need your help!

Help us get the word out so our services to reach the people who need them most. Talk to your friends and family about hospice services and the options they have when facing a life-limiting illness. Read more about why it helps to understand palliative care options before you’re sick. Connect with a staff person at Hospicare directly to discuss a patient – family members, friends, neighbors, and even casual acquaintances can make a referral. Additionally, we welcome the opportunity to speak to your group, large or small, about hospice or palliative care services in Tompkins and Cortland county. Email our outreach and communications manager at communcations@hospicare.org or give us a call at 607-272-0212.