By Ashley Horst
Fundraising & Marketing Coordinator
The last two years have been difficult. Shutdowns, quarantines, masks, the fighting over all of it and, of course, the loss—so much loss. Since the pandemic began, I’ve known 21 people who have died (and that doesn’t include celebrities). Some died from COVID, and some from other causes. I’ve been to seven visitations or memorial services. I’d have been to more than that but many did not have services because of the pandemic. And the year isn’t off to the greatest of starts. I’m starting to feel like a Debbie Downer every time I share the news with my family when I see yet another obituary or Facebook post about someone else we know who has died. When you add celebrities in there, it feels like it’s become a weekly occurrence.
As I talk to other people, I know that I’m not alone in this place. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t experienced multiple losses lately. We all seem to be perpetually grieving. I’m not saying that life right now is all sad because it’s not—far from it—but the grief can be overwhelming at times.
Experts but not immune
At Hospice of the Panhandle, we have a special job that surrounds us with loss and grief every day. We are caring for people who are at the end of their lives. It is meaningful work as we surround our patients and their families with a full circle of support during a very important time in their lives. We reduce pain and ease other symptoms so that they can experience life’s final months more fully. We restore dignity and ease uncertainty. We are experts on the process of dying, yet that doesn’t make us immune to the grief that comes with it.
To process our own grief related to our work or our personal lives, we light candles, sign condolence cards and attend visitations and funerals. These rituals help us express our grief and care for each other.
We have grief counselors and chaplains who work with our patients and their families, but they are also available to our staff. They’ve met with us individually and in groups as we’ve processed the deaths of staff members and volunteers. We are fortunate to benefit from their guidance and wisdom.
I say all of this to remind you that it’s OK to reach out if you need help coping with all the loss that the last two years has brought. Even those of us who work with loss and grief every day sometimes need a little extra support. There’s no reason that any of us should be walking through grief on our own, and there’s no expiration date on grief. Grief related to a death now can surface in a year or even further down the road as other changes in our lives trigger fresh waves of mourning.
My youngest daughter was born in November. I cried when I made my dinner selection at the hospital because one of the options was my dad’s favorite meal. My dad died in 2019 when I was pregnant with my middle child, so at least, he was aware that he was getting another granddaughter then. But he’d never know about our third daughter. This made me sad, but, to me, his favorite meal being offered was like a little wink from him that he was with us and was celebrating her birth as well.
If you are struggling with grief, please reach out to the Center for Grief Support. The grief counselors there offer support groups and/or individual counseling for anyone who is struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one or, for most of us, many loved ones. All services are confidential and free of charge. No insurance or payment needed.
You can reach the Center for Grief Support by calling 304-264-0406 or emailing email@example.com. Information about upcoming support groups can also be found on Hospice of the Panhandle’s Facebook page or on Hospice’s website under News & Events or under the How We Help You tab.
Ashley Horst has been the fundraising and marketing coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle since 2008. Hospice of the Panhandle provides professional medical care and volunteer support to those in the Eastern Panhandle who are seriously ill and believed to be in the last six months of life. For more information about the care Hospice provides, call 304-264-0406 or go to hospiceotp.org.