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Hospice of South Texas group provides resource grieving

By Jessica Rodrigo
Nov. 13, 2012 at 5:13 a.m.

Judy Bellanger, speaks about volunteering by sewing heart patches on teddy bears for the bereavement patients of the Hospice of South Texas in Victoria. One patch represents the one who died and one is for the one receiving the teddy bear. The hearts are made from fabric belonging to the person who died, so that the teddy bear can smell like the loved one.

For many of us, the holidays are often spent with family and friends. These days include Valentine's Day, Easter, special birthdays and anniversaries.

When the weather is beginning to cool down, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year's Day are sometimes all we can think about.

If you've ever lost a loved one, then you know the holiday season can be hard to navigate. With the help of Hospice of South Texas and its trained bereavement group, the holiday season doesn't have to be experienced alone.

Larry Green, a chaplain for Hospice of South Texas, has worked with the nonprofit organization for more than six years. He said the group is trained to know what to listen for when clients and members of the community are struggling to cope with the death of a loved one.

"We know they are going to be experiencing these things (holidays) by themselves," he said. "What we want to let them know is that they are not alone. We're here with you to walk with you on your journey."

As part of the hospice's bereavement services, there is a group of social workers, two chaplains, nurses, counselors and more than 50 volunteers who work within an 11-county area.

They offer grief classes along with other services not only to their clients but also to members of the community.

During the Hospice of South Texas' six-week bereavement class, people are able to meet and listen or talk about what they are experiencing. It may be hard for some people to talk, Green said, but people are always welcome to come and listen.

Listening to what experiences other people are going through can also open up channels of communication between the trained bereavement group and its clients.

"Everyone faces their hurt and their pain differently," Green said. "But I can understand your hurt. I know how you feel, and I can understand when you say that you're hurting."

If people aren't ready to meet in a group setting, Green or a bereavement volunteer may make home visits to talk to the client to see how they're doing.

Ways to cope

Green offered one way for people to remember loved ones during the holidays. Instead of spending time thinking about the loss, he said, do things in remembrance of those lost.

Celebrate the person's favorite holiday and find ways to remember that particular person. Prepare the person's favorite dish, he said, and talk about what that person loved about the holiday.

"You'll find that you miss him without the hurt and without the tears," he said. "If the tears or hurt should come, grief is the price that we pay for love. If we didn't care for somebody or have love for them, we wouldn't have any pain."

Sandra Ryan, bereavement and volunteer services director, said thinking outside the box can help people cope with the loss.

Traveling to other places for the holidays, she said, can relieve the pressure of participating in holiday gatherings with loved ones.

"When you're grieving, you don't have the energy for that," she said. "It's not necessarily time for that."

There is no set length for grieving, Green said. It might take someone a year to get better, while others may need more time.

Working together

Each volunteer has the knowledge to identify the signs of grief and pass on information to someone who can follow up with the client at another time. Some volunteers come in on a daily or weekly basis to make calls to the clients and the families.

Ryan said all the volunteers go through a core basic training course of instruction, before working with the patients or the patient's family.

"One thing we push is teamwork; one person can't do this. It's not just the chaplain, the social worker or the nurse. It's the Hospice of South Texas that is here with you," Green said.

By working together, the group is able to assess how the person is affected by a loss. The person may experience not only emotional stress, he said, but also mental, physical or financial stress. In some situations, the person who dies might be the person in charge of the finances or the sole person employed of the household.

"It's (grieving's) a normal part of life, what we're doing is companioning people through an extremely painful and sometimes terrifying experience," Ryan said. "We're providing them with as much information as we can, opening our bereavement resource library to them; we're offering support groups and inviting them to our services."

Services for all ages

Hospice of South Texas houses what they call their 1,000 Book Library, where clients and members of the community can find help for grieving. The collection includes CDs, DVDs, books and more for all ages and stages of grieving.

"If I can get someone to read something in our library, then I can follow up with them. It opens up the door for us to be able to talk," Green said.

The library also offers coloring books and drawings, because he says its not uncommon for adults to forget about the children who may also be going through the process.

To help children cope with the death of a parent or a grandparent, the hospice developed the Teddy Bear Club. As the children are going through the grieving process, volunteer Judy Bellanger will receive an article of clothing from the loved one and stitch a heart-shaped patch onto the bear's small T-shirt.

"In essence, it's kinda like holding grandma or holding mom again or holding dad," Green said. "They will recognize that piece of clothing that is incorporated with that (teddy bear)."

Over the five-year history of the Teddy Bear Club, hospice has given hundreds of bears to young children, sometimes giving up to four or five bears to a family, Green said.

Help beyond hospice

In some special cases, Green said, grief goes on for a couple years and the person may begin to show a change in behavior. At that point, members of the bereavement group may refer the person to professional guidance.

"There might be something else going on that we don't know about," he said.

Green likened grief to a scar.

"The cut is now a scar, but the scar has no pain. But it is a reminder of what happened. When it first happens, it hurts and it's bleeding, but after a while it heals over. Every time I look at it, I remember how I got it, but I don't have the pain with it."



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