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Grieve Not Alone: Coping with the Loss of a Loved One

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by Marie Fricker

You’ve lost your spouse, your partner, your soulmate, and what comes next is not for the weak of heart. The aching hollow in the core of your being, and the desperate desire to deny it all happened are natural aftermaths of losing someone you cherish. The sleepless nights, loneliness, desperation, and inconceivable sorrow seem like they will last forever, that nothing will make your world whole or happy again.

Friends tell you, “Time heals all,” but you find that impossible to believe in the weeks and months following the death of your loved one. There are, however, ways to cope with your loss, including staying physically and socially active and seeking professional help if you need it. 

Susan Drevitch Kelly, a professional life coach, created “Grieve Not Alone,” a support group for people who are seeking solace and healing after the profound loss of a spouse, partner, or sibling. The 10-14 members of the group (from various South Shore towns) meet on the first and third Thursday of the month in the Humarock Room of the Scituate Senior Center. After each session, they are assigned “healwork,” instead of homework, and asked to set aside some portion of each day to self-care and healing. 

“I ask them to journal their feelings and to make a note of at least one thing that made them feel good or smile and share it with the group,” said Drevitch Kelly, who is a grief survivor herself. “In the beginning, everyone is in a desperate state of mind, and just getting out of bed, getting dressed and being with others is a huge first step. But when they meet these people in their own area who are going through the same emotions, they feel less alone.”

Due to the pandemic, Drevitch Kelly launched her first Grieve Not Alone program on Zoom in November of 2020. Her second series was held in person at the Scituate Senior Center beginning in November of 2021. It was scheduled to end in May, but, at the request of her members, who wanted to stay together, she agreed to hold the group once a month over the summer. A third 16-session program will launch on September 22 and run through May 2023. 

“You are welcome to register and join the program at any time,” said Drevitch Kelly. “It’s not like I’m teaching a yoga class where I would tell someone that the course is full and you’ll have to wait until the fall.  The people who need this group are raw and hurting, and they need the support now. I would never turn anyone away.”

Drevitch Kelly, who holds a master’s degree from Harvard University in biological sciences, devised the structure and content for Grieve Not Alone, and she is the volunteer facilitator of every session. The program deals with the specific stages of grief, as defined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, as well as a sixth stage added by Kubler-Ross’ protégé, David Kessler—finding meaning and purpose, which is the mission of Drevitch Kelly’s group.

James Miller, author of Seasons of Grief and Healing, a Guide for Those Who Mourn, describes the stages of bereavement in a different way. He alludes to four “seasons” of grief, beginning with the darkest days of fall and winter, followed by the rebirth of spring and the grace of summer.

Each person experiences the profound loss of a loved one in a unique way, and there are no specific “seasons” or “stages” that automatically fall into place, according to Drevitch-Kelly.

For Tom Foye, 67, of Hull, who lost his wife to pancreatic cancer in May, the pain is still acute, and he is planning to join the Grieve Not Alone support group. “I feel like I am just ‘existing’ and not ‘living’ anymore,” said Foye, who is the owner and publisher of the Hull Times and the South Shore Senior News.  “It’s the tough times I dwell on, the horrible, fast-moving final weeks of Patti’s life that haunt me because I could do nothing to help her.”

Joe Chinzi, 81, of Weymouth, who is a friend and business associate of Foye’s, also lost his wife Marion to cancer in May of 2022. Chinzi, publisher of the long-running On Tray Magazine, is coping privately with his grief. 

“I don’t like to talk about my feelings, and I guess I hold them in too much,” he said. “I’m trying to push through it. I walk every day, and I still work full-time at my office in Braintree. I think it’s important to keep your mind busy. I’m devastated, but I’m a pretty strong person—can take a lot of beatings. Been in business almost 55 years—never was easy, and this isn’t easy either. It’s tough, real tough.” 

A more experienced “grief survivor” in Foye’s circle of support is his neighbor, Victor Paglierani, 78, who lost his wife Vivian to brain cancer in 2017, just four weeks after her diagnosis. 

“Viv and I had been together for 52 years, and I couldn’t even grasp the fact that she had died on me,” said Paglierani, a U.S. Army vet and former Quincy Shipyard engineer. 

“She had many serious illnesses over the years but had always rallied. I thought she would beat this one too. But when a miracle didn’t come through, I went numb. I don’t even remember much about the first month after her death. I went to grief counseling and I met people there —some who were behaving like I was, others not as bad. It gave me a better acceptance of the anger, depression, and anxiety that come with losing a loved one. I didn’t feel so alone.”

For Drevitch Kelly, dealing with the questions of her members— “Why me, why now, why did this happen? When will I feel better?”— is challenging. She doesn’t have the answers, but her goal is to help them understand their grief, validate their physical, emotional, and psychological state of mind, and guide them through a pathway of healing.

“No one can predict how long it will take you to recover from the death of a loved one,” she said. “Sometimes the healing begins so gradually that it almost goes unnoticed. One day you just realize that you have gone for an hour without thinking about the person you lost or you’ve driven to work without crying. They say that time heals all, and it truly does, but grief is not a linear process. It’s a big, tangled mess. What’s most important is to acknowledge your feelings, allow yourself to mourn, and be patient with the process.”

According to Drevitch Kelly, some of the people in her current group had “back-burnered” their grief when they first lost their loved one, and only recently decided to deal with their unfinished business. “It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you suffered your loss,” she said. “It’s never too late to seek solace and to give it to others.” 

For Victor Paglierani, tending the rose garden that his wife loved so much makes him feel closer to her, even after five years. “I’m not a church goer but I pray a lot,” he said. “I just can’t figure out what God’s intention was of keeping me going and taking away someone so dear to me. But I’m a very curious guy, and I know he must have something in store for me. I can’t wait to see what it is.”

For information about the Grieve Not Alone Support group and other resources for coping with the loss of a loved one, contact Susan Drevitch Kelly at 781-254-7133 or email susan@sdkelly.com.