Easy Does It

Dec. 8-14, 2005
Easy Does It
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Hope for Bereaved Offers Support for Grieving Individuals Facing the Holidays It’s the season for families to draw together; for celebration and warm memories; for customs and traditions. It’s a season of joy-filled, family-oriented excitement.

For people who have lost a loved one, however, the coming weeks can be the loneliest, most painful time of the year.

There is a place where one who is grieving the death of a loved one can get the necessary support and guidance needed to survive the holidays — Hope for Bereaved.

Hope for Bereaved has been in operation since 1978. It is an independent, not-for-profit community organization that provides support and services for grieving children and adults. It’s purpose is to offer understanding, people that will listen, suggestions for coping, support, friendship and hope. Hope for Bereaved got its start when director Therese Schoeneck, a parishioner of St. Patrick’s Church in Otisco, approached Father Joseph Phillips, director of the Syracuse Diocese Family Life Office, to ask him if a support group for bereaved parents could be initiated.

The Schoenecks’ daughter died in 1977 and after suffering through the holidays following her death, Schoeneck felt she needed the support of other parents who had also suffered the loss of a child. “I would have driven anywhere to be with other bereaved parents,” she said.

Father Phillips agreed that it was a much-needed service and the first support group was then organized. The group met at the Harrison Center in Syracuse and included people who had traveled from as far away as Norwich and Watertown. A four-couple panel moderated the support group meeting in which they discussed ways to cope with the holidays. “The parents liked getting together – they felt they received some good ideas,” said Schoeneck. “It gave them hope.”

Today, Hope for Bereaved helps almost 15,000 people and employs seven full-time and five part-time staff members. The organization is also enhanced by the efforts of over 400 volunteers. “We couldn’t do it without them,” said Schoeneck.

Hope for Bereaved services and resources are used locally, nationally and internationally. There is no charge for many of the services. The care and support given by Hope for Bereaved can add greatly to the physical and mental well being of the grieving and their family and friends. Facts show that unresolved grief may lead to major physical and/or emotional problems, absenteeism, alcoholism, suicide and marital problems. Schoeneck said the best way for people who are grieving the death of a loved one to deal with the holidays is to scale down the celebration to a comfortable level. “When you’re grieving, you should take it easy,” explained Schoeneck. “One of the most important things that we tell them to do is to think about how they want to celebrate the holidays. We tell them to do what feels best to them.”

Schoeneck also talked about the importance of reaching out to other people in attempting to cope with the holidays. “They should be around loving friends and family with whom they feel comfortable, who will enable them to talk about their deceased loved one. They need to give themselves a chance to get the tears out,” she said. “The day before the holiday is usually the worst for them. That’s to be expected — that might be the day to reach out. I think people find the answers by talking it out.”

Individual counseling and support group meetings are an integral part of the help and guidance that is offered at Hope for Bereaved. “After a person has received support from us, I have witnessed the relief they feel when things get better for them,” said Schoeneck. “It shows on their faces. Recently, I heard one participant of a support group say, ‘I never thought I would be where I am now — but Therese did say it would get easier.’” Donna Kalb and her husband Clifford struggled through the holidays when their son died in 1973. As a result of her involvement with Hope for Bereaved, Donna now provides support to bereaved individuals as a community outreach counselor.

Working as a counselor has been very rewarding for Kalb, as she has helped grieving individuals get in touch with their sense of loss. “It’s important for them to validate their feelings,” explained Kalb. “We encourage them to go with their feelings, and not to push them down. People come to our organization experiencing raw pain — the pain is difficult. They want answers and for us to take the raw pain away, but grieving is a slow process. Ever so slowly, they start to heal and get better.” Kathleen Spencer and her husband Ronald have been involved with Hope for Bereaved for the last 18 years. They became involved in the organization three months after their son died. After participating for one and one half years in the Hope for Bereaved organization, the Spencers took on the position of co-facilitators of the support group meetings.

“The first support group meeting we attended was tough,” said Kathleen. “If it weren’t for the staff at Hope telephoning me, I wouldn’t have continued going to the support group meetings. The meetings are a place where everyone understands your grief. If you are struggling with a problem, the other people there can help you work through it, because most likely, they have struggled with the same problem. After our son died, I never wanted to do another holiday again.” She agrees with many others at Hope that it’s important to take it easy during the holidays. “If you find that what you are doing is not working, give yourself an out,” said Kathleen. “The first few years of bereavement are the hardest.”

“By working through the grief, I’ve come to the place where I am today,” she said. “We have a lot of blessings — my husband and I adopted two children. Without Hope, we wouldn’t have adopted them as soon as we had. It’s been like a sanctuary for me. It’s a room where you can cry and laugh together. Those are both healing emotions.”
Suggestions for coping with the holidays

Plan Ahead

Sit down with your loved ones and talk about what each wants to do for the holidays. Let relatives and friends know your decisions.


Shop by catalog or phone. Shop with a friend or ask someone to shop for you. Donate to a worthy cause or give gift certificates.

Take Care of Yourself

Be careful of “shoulds” — do what is most helpful and important to you. Try to put balance in your life — get adequate rest, eat well, build in time to exercise, pray, read and relax. Take time to walk.

Holiday Activities

Consider cutting back on baking, decorating, cleaning and cards.

Holiday Dinner

You may wish to stay busy fixing a big meal. Go to another’s home for dinner or eat at a different time. Serving buffet-style or eating in a different room may help.

Religious Services

Attend at a different time or place. Turn to your faith — try to concentrate on the meaning of the season.

Express Feelings

Don’t push down tears. Build in time to grieve. Keep a journal.

Ask For And Accept Help

Share your concerns, feelings and apprehensions with an understanding friend. Plan special times with people with whom you are comfortable.

Help Others

Volunteer at a soup kitchen, visit the lonely and shut-ins. Invite someone who is alone to share the day with you. Provide food/gifts for the needy.

Call Hope

For a good listener, information about support groups, suggestions for coping, or to make an appointment for counseling, call (315) 475-4673.

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