By Tami Scott | HOPE for Bereaved
Hope for Bereaved is holding two special workshops this month: “Caring for the Caregiver,” and “Exploring Traumatic Grief in the Aftermath of a Homicide.”
The former, set for Monday, Sept. 18, will include a panel of four people that will discuss the many ways caregivers can obtain support and encouragement while caring for their loved one’s impending death.
“All of us need healthy interdependence in order to maneuver and navigate our lives, in whatever circumstances we’re in, but particularly when we’re in trying times,” said Kate Flannery, executive director of Susan G. Komen Foundation Central New York. “That could be the support of a spouse, of an immediate family, of an extended family, of a neighborhood, of a group of friends, of a community, of different institutions that provide care. The key is to shift away from thinking you can do it yourself, because it’s not necessary, it’s not the most effective way [and] it just makes it more difficult than it needs to be.”
Two former caregivers, Elaine Palmer and Greg Lynch, will touch on their unique, yet similar, experiences caring for their spouses, and what they learned throughout the process. For Palmer, a mother of two teenage boys, her biggest challenge was overcoming fear as she became a full-time caregiver for her husband, Mike, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma. He lived for two years after his diagnosis.
“My main thing was this overwhelming, ‘how are you going to manage life and care for that person and find out all the information that you need?’” she said. “You’re constantly searching the internet and trying to find out how you can help that person so they can have the best care they can possibly have. That becomes your full-time job. You don’t really do anything else, or take care of yourself or anything, just trying to provide the best care you can.”
Palmer said she was appreciative of any information passed on to her, and considered them a Godsend. “Had I not had that, I don’t know how I would have managed. It becomes so difficult to do that stuff and if someone can provide it, hold your hand and guide you, that’s huge.”
Lynch’s wife, Mary, was diagnosed in 2009 and lived six years with ALS. Within 14 months of her diagnosis, she lost control of her arms and legs, becoming a complete quadriplegic on a respirator at age 57. She spent 52 weeks at a Binghamton rehabilitation center, while Lynch spent countless hours seeking assistance, determined to find a way to bring her home.
“I had a pretty complex case,” he said. “Got a lot of bad advice.” His break came on a Friday afternoon when he finally found someone who could help: “I met my first angel that day.” That angel was from VNA Homecare, located on West Genesee Street in Syracuse. Eventually, he was able to grant both his and Mary’s wishes to bring her home.
Both Palmer and Lynch could not emphasize enough the significance of respite care. It’s not a concept to be taken lightly, Lynch said. “It’s very important for the caregiver to separate themselves from the environment from time to time so they’re not overwhelmed,” he said.
Palmer added, “You have to take care of yourself. If you do it 24/7 without any breaks, you’re just gonna burn out.” Palmer often took walks to clear her head. She also went to counseling and participated in Reiki. “Sometimes you just need to step out of the role for just a little bit, maybe an hour a day.”
The seminar will also focus on anticipatory grief and ways to handle the last days of a loved one’s life. “While someone is sitting vigil at a bedside and while you have all of the intellectual information that you need to know that this person’s condition is gonna lead very soon to death, you still have that person there in front of you,” said Sister Kathleen Osbelt, OSF, of Francis House. “So while you are sad and while you’re grieving to a certain extent, it’s never the same as when you do finally lose them, because there is then no one to look at, no one to watch, no one to talk to even if they can’t respond. They’re gone.”
Osbelt will concentrate on what can be done in those last days to make it a meaningful experience for the family, friend or loved one.
“Caring for the Caregiver” will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 18 at Hope for Bereaved, 4500 Onondaga Blvd, Syracuse.
‘Exploring Traumatic Grief Following a Homicide’
In the early hours of Thanksgiving last year, a fatal shooting occurred in Syracuse’s Armory Square. Parents Felipe and Evelyn Diaz would soon learn that their son Jonathan Diaz, 26, was killed after a fight had escalated outside a bar on Walton Street. Their lives would never be the same.
Felipe Diaz will be one of five speakers at the Sept. 28 seminar, “Exploring Traumatic Grief Following a Homicide.” As he shares the struggles he has since endured, others on the panel will offer their professional support to survivors of such tragic events, to help them better understand their grief journey, as well as the investigative process that follows a homicide.
“When a death comes so quickly and so unannounced, it just takes the emotional wind out of your sails and you’re numb,” said Dr. Terry O’Brien, psychotherapist. “And your initial reaction is shock and numbness that often gives way to anger.”
O’Brien will discuss ways to help a person cope with their emotions, from talking about what happened to engaging in some sort of physical activity like regular walks or yoga.
“In grief work, in essence, it’s getting people to tell their stories about their loved ones,” he said. “Hopefully it begins to help people become less numb and unthaw some of the frozenness they feel given the traumatic nature of the dying.”
Mourning a loved one’s death by homicide is also often met with the unfortunate and sometimes lengthy aftermath, including investigations and criminal proceedings. Onondaga County has a point person for families going through such trials: Victims Assistance Coordinator for the District Attorney’s Office Monira Alozaime.
“My job is just to stay in contact with the family, be like the liaison between the victim’s family and the assistant district attorneys,” she said, noting that while ADAs are often hard to reach, the initial introduction is always in person. She educates them on the entire criminal justice process and accompanies them to court appearances if they choose to go. “I think the unknown is very scary, so I’ll walk them through the process and kind of give them an idea of what to expect … to ease their discomfort a little bit.”
Additionally, Alozaime, who will also appear on the workshop panel, said the assistance remains available even if a criminal case is closed. “We never really close a case, as far as victim assistance is concerned,” she said.
HOPE for Bereaved will offer this workshop from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28 also at HOPE’s headquarters. Other speakers for that evening will include Sgt. Derek McGork of the Syracuse Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit and Dr. A. Najah Salaam Jennings Bey, a high school vice principal within the Syracuse City School District.
For more information about these programs, please contact Walt Stein by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Kim Bermel by email at email@example.com, or call 315-475-9675. All are welcome to attend.