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Dealing with death: Hospice support group helps locals endure loss

Nik Dirga, Sierra Sun

Death is a fact of life, but a support group established by Tahoe Forest Hospice is making the grieving process easier for those who’ve recently lost a loved one.

Margaret Olivier of Truckee lost her husband Mickey in June 2000. His sudden illness and death due to lung and kidney cancer happened over just a few months.

Margaret and her husband had moved to Truckee just a few months before and knew few people in the area. Suddenly she was alone.

Hospice, which had helped care for her husband in his final weeks, stepped in and provided Margaret with a place to go – their support group for people who have been dealing with the death of someone close to them.

Margaret started attending the support group two weeks after Mickey passed away, and has been going ever since.

“It’s just been very helpful,” Margaret says today. “I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

The first meetings for Margaret were difficult, but the experience has changed her, she said.

“In the very beginning, I was in shock, I was absolutely in shock,” she said. “There were a lot of tears. Everybody helped me through it, and now I feel like I’m helping the new ones through it.”

Penn Barbosa, a doctor of clinical psychology who has a practice at Bristlecone Psychotherapy in Tahoe City, facilitates the Hospice Support Group, which meets every other Thursday in the Truckee area.

“It’s a place where people come to find comfort and some hope,” Barbosa said of the group.

American society doesn’t teach its citizens how to deal well with death, said Barbosa.

“Our society honestly believes that you can avoid pain,” she said.

Barbosa said the support group is loosely structured, with the goal of teaching its members how to deal with the loss they’ve suffered and intergrate that experience into their lives.

The idea that the grieving process has a set beginning and ending is one that many counselors now accept doesn’t apply to everyone.

“Our viewpoint now is that there’s no end to grief,” Barbosa said. “Now, that sounds bad, but as long as you continue to have a relationship with the victim, that’s healthy.”

The old idea that there are several stages to the bereavement process that a person must go through has also been largely discarded in favor of a more individual-specific treatment.

“What was bad before is that people felt they should have been over it by a certain point, and they weren’t, and they were to blame,” said Barbosa.

Barbosa took over the coordination of the support group in January from the previous facilitator.

Originally a computer specialist in the Bay Area, she had gotten into the psychotherapy field after she realized she wanted to have a career that made more of a difference in people’s lives.

“I think that I always wanted to feel like I was making an impact,” she said.

A person’s membership in the support group has no set duration, but is up to the individual, said Barbosa.

“You just keep coming until you’re ready to act as your own support group,” she said.

Some attend the meetings for months, some for years, she noted.

“One person has been coming for two and a half years, and she swears by it.”

The support group has a loose structure that encourages clients to be themselves, Barbosa said.

“Some people talk to the group, some don’t,” she said. “No one is expected to speak unless they’re feeling like it.”

Barbosa said that the support group is open to new members. She prefers to meet with possible members before they join the group.

“What I like to do is set up an appointment with them and see who they are and what the circumstances of their loss were,” she said.

The current support group is for adults only, but Barbosa said she would eventually like to see a support group for teens and children who may have suffered losses in their family.

“There’s an entirely different way of dealing with death if you’re younger,” she said.

The current support group is mostly Truckee residents, although Barbosa said she hopes to also start a Tahoe City group soon.

More than a year after her husband’s sudden death, Margaret Olivier said she couldn’t imagine having gone through the experience without a support group.

“It’s been a really tough year,” said Olivier. “At least with the group, I can call someone up and say, let’s get together.”

Olivier said members of the group do gather outside the regular meetings, and help each other when needed.

“I think I’m luckier than most,” she said. “The group has allowed us to all go through this together.”

For more information on the Tahoe Forest Hospice bereavement support group, call Penn Barbosa at (530) 582-3534.


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