When Suzanne Gentes’ husband passed away in May of 2015, she had anticipated feeling the deep grief of losing a spouse. What she didn’t expect was feeling an additional loss from saying goodbye to friends in Iona’s caregiver support group for spouses and partners of people with dementia.
Over several years, Suzanne had come to rely on the group as a safe space to vent, laugh, and cry with people in similar situations. “The group really helped a lot, and in a way, I had a circle of caregivers to take care of me,” says Suzanne.
After her husband died, it was difficult not to have that continued support. And, while she tried bereavement groups with other area organizations, there was always something missing. Suzanne found that few addressed her important caregiver role. Knowing that Iona had been there during her caregiving journey, Suzanne turned to Iona again in her grief.
Using feedback from Suzanne’s personal experience, along with best practices, Iona staff members Bill Amt and Deb Rubenstein designed the After Caregiving Support Group. Its first meeting was in April 2016.
Today, the group continues to help members process their grief, as well help them think about next steps. Additionally, it’s also a great space to share resources, literature, and success stories for self-care.
For members like Sandi O’Neill, it’s a blessing. Sandi credits the group with reducing her anxiety about grief. “When I first went, I kept saying, ‘Well I don’t think I’m grieving right,'” she says. “They put an end to my worry.”
She encourages any caregiver who has lost a loved one to join. “All feelings are accepted” she says. “You can’t talk that way with other people. Here, everyone knows what it’s like.”