Creating a Safe Space to Heal
The month of June 2020 was a blur for Lauren Nolke.
Not only was this working mother of two doing her best to manage the “new normal” thrust upon her by the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, she had just learned that her beloved father, Robert Brenneman, was in the late-stages of a rare cancer called cholangiocarcinoma.
Lauren and her family reached out to Frederick Health Hospice on June 16, a decision that she says brought compassionate care and comfort to her father and immediate support to her and the rest of the family. Five days later, in the early hours of Father’s Day, Lauren’s father passed away at home, surrounded by his family.
In the weeks that followed, Lauren says her emotions ranged from devastated, relieved, confused…even angry. “How do you watch someone die and then try to pick up the pieces?” she says. “It’s overwhelming to say the least. I knew that Hospice offered grief support services, but at first I was just too exhausted to reach out for help.”
Thankfully, she said, Trish Bowers, a Hospice grief counselor called her a few weeks after her father died to check on her. Trish is one of four professional counselors at Hospice who reach out to grieving family members like Lauren after the death of a loved one. They support those who are grieving by giving them an opportunity to tell their stories, express their emotions, and receive support and validation.
“Working through the grief we experience after the death of a loved one can be one of the most profound experiences of our lives,” explains Trish. “However, because we are all different, each of us grieves in our own unique way. My colleagues and I try to meet each person wherever they may be on their grief journey by offering them individual counseling, support groups, and creative workshops. We encourage them to choose from what’s available to create their own safe place in which to explore their feelings and begin to heal.”
Shortly after that first phone call, Lauren began weekly individual counseling, a service Hospice offers at no charge. “Because of COVID precautions, we always talked on the phone,” says Lauren, “but our connection was strong and immediate. I knew that my counselor had a lot of experience helping people process their grief, so I felt confident that she could help me find my way, too.”
Lauren says that speaking with a grief counselor each week quickly became a source of stability in her life. “One of the greatest gifts Trish gave me during the time we worked together was the understanding that grieving is a process with no fixed path or timetable. She also assured me that there was no right or wrong way to do it.”
According to Lauren, another helpful thing her grief counselor did for her was to help her build a “toolbox” of coping strategies and suggestions that she could dig into when the going got especially tough. By using these strategies, Lauren says she began to learn how to reframe her feelings when grief threatened to overwhelm her. Not every “tool” resonated with her right away, but she found that the more she stayed open and curious, the more she could feel the process starting to work.
By December of last year, after working with Lauren for nearly six months, Trish invited her to speak at Hospice’s Remembrance Service, an annual event for those in the community who have experienced the death of a loved one.
“I was deeply honored by Hospice’s invitation,” says Lauren, “But giving a speech like that was outside my comfort zone. In thinking about it, though, I remembered one of the last things my father said to me before he died: ‘Don’t ever underestimate yourself; you’re stronger than you think you are.’ I took a deep breath and decided to believe that he was right.”
“After I finished speaking at the Remembrance Service, many people told me that they could relate to what I said,” says Lauren. “Because one of the things that defined my father was his deep desire to help people, knowing that sharing our family’s hospice story, including our grief journey, brought strength and peace to others was not only comforting to me, but also felt like the ultimate tribute to his memory.”
Frederick Health Hospice offers a wide
variety of grief support services at no
charge to anyone in the community,
regardless of whether or not their loved
ones were for cared for by Hospice. For
more information about grief support,