A mother’s hug inspired Sharon Modrzynski to work with the dying.
“I was with my Mom when she died,” Modrzynski explains. “She’d had a stroke and hadn’t been able to speak for a number of years. But when she was dying, she all of a sudden sat up, opened her eyes and gave me a big hug. That’s when I thought, ‘Being with the dying is something I’m called to do.’”
Modrzynski, a certified minister of consolation, now works as a bereavement counselor through Agnesian HealthCare’s Hospice Hope program in Green Lake.
Hospice Hope is a program for individuals with a limited life expectancy. A team of professionals work with patients and their families, managing their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs at a time when a curative approach to care is no longer available. The Hospice Hope team includes an attending physician, medical director, hospice nurses, social workers, bereavement care, home health aides, spiritual care and more than 250 volunteers.
Modrzynski offers support to those who have lost loved ones, so that they can begin to process their loss.
“When someone dies, you have to deal with your head and your heart,” Modrzynski says. “Your head might understand, but your heart is aching. To put those two together and start the work of grieving is where bereavement services comes in.”
Volunteers and professionals like Modrzynski reach out to the families of every Hospice Hope patient who dies, whether the person passes away at home, in a local nursing home or at the hospital. They provide one-on-one counseling and support, as well as educational seminars and memorial services.
They also offer a wide variety of support groups, including a widow/widowers support group, a child loss support group, a grief relief peer support group for children and families and a healing after suicide support group.
That kind of support can be essential to healing after the death of a loved one.
“In the beginning, there’s all the business to take care off – paperwork and life insurance and Social Security,” Modrzynski says. “At first, you can put your grief on the backburner.”
But processing a loss takes time and attention; it takes time to come to terms with the death, to integrate memories and feelings related to the deceased and to decide how to move forward in life.
Society – and healthcare providers – didn’t always recognize and respond to the needs of the survivors. “For many years, the whole idea of bereavement wasn’t really addressed,” says Sister Joyann Repp, bereavement coordinator at Agnesian HealthCare. “Now, we understand the importance of support, of letting people know that grieving is a normal process and that it’s not the same for everyone.”
That’s why Agnesian HealthCare and Hospice Hope offer a variety of bereavement options – options that extend far beyond what some other healthcare providers offer, Modrzynski says. Family members and loved ones can choose from open support groups (those that are open to the public, on a drop-in, as-needed basis) or closed support groups, in which members work together for a set period of time.
Individualized counseling is available for individuals who’d rather not attend a support group, and special programs such as “Help Me Make It Through the Holidays While Grieving” offer information and support at particularly vulnerable times.
“Our society is kind of in a death denial,” Modrzynski says. “On TV, someone dies, and everyone is back to business in a few days. Real life doesn’t work that way.”
“The worst thing someone can say is, ‘Aren’t you over this yet?’” Repp says. “You never really, ever get completely over it. It may diminish, but you don’t get completely over it.”
Help Me Make It Through the Holidays While Grieving will be offered at 1:30 pm on Tuesday December 4 at Ripon Medical Center, and again at 2:30 pm on Friday December 14 at the Wautoma Public Library. To register for the Ripon program, contact Agnesian HealthCare’s health resource center at (920) 926-4960. To register for the Wautoma program, contact Nicole at the Wautoma Library at (920) 787-2988.