Home Health & Hospice Care’s Bereavement Support helps handle loss

Courtesy photo Home Health & Hospice Care is recognizing the importance of all their volunteers, and in particular, its trained volunteers who facilitate its bereavement support groups. From left are volunteer Madonna Mitchell, Home Health and Hospice Care Adult Bereavement Coordinator Lisa Woods, Home Health and Hospice Care Bereavement Support Group Coordinator Deb Pelletier, volunteers Nancy Brown, Scott Herbert, Joanne Dowd, Stephen Garcelon, and Home Health and Hospice Care Manager of Volunteer Services Tanya Prather.

MERRIMACK – Home Health & Hospice Care offers numerous services to its patients, but one that has touched many is Bereavement Support. This features trained volunteers who often have suffered losses themselves.

Adult Bereavement Coordinator Lisa Woods said organizers run support groups three times a year for nine weeks each. There are groups for spousal loss, both young and elder, and parent loss.

“The program is so robust that sometimes, there’s even a need to create additional groups because the demand is there,” Woods said. “We’re lucky enough to have a pool of volunteers to pull from and the services that we offer could not be possible without the volunteers that we have.”

Deb Pelletier, the bereavement support group coordinator at HHHC, said there are typically 12 to 15 volunteers. They start with a training program for hospice care, and then if they are interested, they can do a follow up bereavement training, spearheaded by Woods. After this, they are paired with an experienced facilitator so that they can be mentored when a group is actually happening.

“We are so fortunate as an agency and as a bereavement program to have folks in the midst give back and help out health and hospice families,” Woods said.

Pelletier spoke of the benefits that come from having facilitators who have endured loss themselves.

“I think the people who are coming in and are new to the group see two people that, for the most part, have had a similar loss, and here they are. They’re not just surviving, they’re thriving,” Pelletier said.

“I think that is what makes our program a bit unique because we have people come through and then they want to give back in that way,” she added.

Volunteers Scott Herbert, Madonna Mitchell and Nancy Brown were all once part of bereavement groups.

Herbert, once a group participant and now a facilitator, said, “I found that the group certainly helped me to better understand the grieving experience and the feelings I was dealing with, helping validate them. I think the support that you get in the group from participants as well as facilitators is really instrumental in helping you to move forward.”

“When the people leave the groups, they know they have another group of people that they can rely on when they are having a tough day,” he said.

When Mitchell first took part in the bereavement groups, she wasn’t sure if she was going to go back after the first few classes, as it was very difficult for her to sit through, but she endured.

“I had two fantastic instructors, I made six wonderful friends and it did help me. I wouldn’t be where I am today, taking the volunteer class that I’m doing, without (the group),” Mitchell said.

Similar to Mitchell, Brown said she wouldn’t be where she is today without having gone through the support group. At the time when she was just beginning in the group, she said she felt very alone and that no one around her understood her predicament.

However when she took part in the group, she said she hit it off with the other participants. She still in in contact with her group members.

“Being able to give back, it’s a two-way street. What you get from it, there’s just nothing else compared to it,” Brown said. She added, “I wanted to honor my mom, make a difference and give back.”

Joanne Dowd and Stephen Garcelon are two facilitators who did not go through the bereavement group, but did experience loss.

“The fact that we have this program to help so many people is just wonderful, and they give back to us,” Dowd said.

Garcelon, who came two years ago, said “Through the process, you can still honor some things in yourself, you can still dig down and find things. It’s a very reciprocal relationship.”

Volunteer Services Manager Tanya Prather said there is a high value in being among peers while experiencing a loss.

“Many people will go and get bereavement counseling, and that has a place too, but it’s a completely different feeling to be with people who have experienced a similar loss,” Prather said.

While the volunteers play an important role in facilitating these groups, Herbert said without the work of Pelletier, Prather and Woods, they wouldn’t be as successful as they are.

“They enabled us to experience that success,” Herbert said.