Frank Marrero and his family know about coping with loss. Eight years ago, his 19-year-old son died by suicide related to steroid use. Five months ago, his 49-year-old wife, the mother of his three children and the love of his life, died of cancer. Frank is doing his best to be strong for his 25-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.
“We’ve had so much loss in such a short time,” Marrero said. “I knew we needed help. I knew we had a long road to recovery. My wife’s doctor recommended Yolo Hospice’s Bereavement Services to us.”
Marrero’s daughter, Erika, is a graduate student working for a degree in psychology. She accesses grief resources through Yolo Hospice’s Bereavement Services and her school. Son Ethyn began attending the Yolo Hospice’s Stepping Stones children’s group program in October. There, Ethyn can freely express his thoughts and feelings through art and play, including, puppets, a sand tray, costumes, drawing, clay work and construction toys. The tools and activities used are all carefully chosen to enable the children like Ethyn to explore what is most troubling to them.
“For Ethyn to have a group of children of similar age and similar situations has been a great benefit to him,” Marrero said. “Now he knows he is not alone in his grief. Others have gone through the same thing. The Stepping Stones program has been a tremendous help.”
While Ethyn is in the Stepping Stones group, Marrero goes across the hall to a group for adults, which takes place simultaneously. Marrero says it is wonderful to be able to talk about his grief and pain. He also believes it helps him to hear the stories of other people.
Some people in the groups are in different places in their grief and can say, “I was there. You’ll get through it.” Others tell him they still grieve deeply though it has been years since their loved one’s death. For Marrero, this is information to help him process, reassurance that he can cope and affirmation that everyone grieves differently.
“I was experiencing tremendous pain and anxiety,” Marrero said. “I didn’t think anyone could help me — no pill, no doctor, not my children. As I began to talk one-on-one with bereavement specialists and in group sessions, those overwhelming feelings started to subside, and I had hope again. It is an ongoing process, but as far as I’m concerned, it is working.”
The Yolo Hospice Bereavement Services are a resource to those coping with the pain and other emotions resulting from the death of a loved one. There are many options open to those seeking assistance. There are support group meetings held regularly and one-on-one contact with a grief specialist is possible.
The Barbara Frankel Memorial Library offers books, DVDs and CDs on many grief-related subjects. Those items are available to check out by anyone in the community. Marrero is a fervent believer that seeking assistance, through whatever resource is right for you, is a sign of strength, not weakness.
“It takes courage to speak up and say ‘I’m hurting, I need help,’ ” Marrero said. “It is a sign of strength to say those words and accept help. I’m confident I’m setting a good example for my children to know, now and in their future, it is OK to seek and receive assistance when you need it. I’m becoming a stronger person for my family and community.”
Marrero is taking other positive steps in his life to remember his loved ones. He continues the foundation he and his wife began after their elder son’s death. The foundation educates teens about the dangers of steroid use and suicide. In addition, he’ll be participating in Relay for Life this summer in his wife’s honor and sponsoring a golf tournament later in the year to raise funds for both cancer research and the foundation.
The Stepping Stones program groups meet every Thursday evening. Children 12 and under and teens ages 13-17 meet on alternate Thursdays. Children can enter the groups at any time, but all children and teens must be pre-registered. Adult grief services are available on a drop-in basis or through specialized groups.
For more information or to register, call 530-601-5756 or visit yolohospice.org/content/grief-support.
— Mary Odbert is Yolo Hospice’s public relations coordinator. Her column is published monthly.