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Published on November 07, 2017

closeup of woman writing in a journal

Help for Surviving Spouses Who Face Loss

For almost three decades, Avera Licensed Social Worker and Bereavement Coordinator Becky Hollan, LBSW, has met with husbands or wives after they’ve faced one of the most painful losses anyone can face: the death of their spouse.

Hollan meets them “where they are,” and she listens with acute empathy. She knows the reality of facing that sort of grief can be overwhelming, and she feels honored to walk with them on their journeys.

“It can be harder to talk to someone in your family after a death, and often I can be the person they can open up to because I’m not in the midst of the pain the family is experiencing,” she said. “Losing a spouse will affect them in their hearts, minds, souls and their bodies, too. We always encourage patience – each journey through grief is different.”

Hollan works as part of the Avera@Home team, often at Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls or in their homes. Some will accept her assistance, where others will be more reluctant. She explained the process of going through loss is often better when a support system can provide the grieving person opportunities to share their story.

“We want to make sure the person who is grieving has at least one person they can tell their story to and confide in,” said Hollan. “We want them to share the story of their loved one as often as possible. It’s a huge part of their adjustment.”

When she talks to a widow or widower, the “story” includes memories of how they met, or about raising their children. They might reflect on special trips they took together, and they may speak about the death of their loved one.

These remembrances are vital aspects that influence the path of their grief journey. Hollan said Avera@Home bereavement coordinators keep in touch through formal efforts that go on for a full year after the death.

“We stay in touch with phone calls, cards, support groups, holiday programs and memorial gatherings,” Hollan said. “For family members that live a distance away, I will assist them in finding grief-support resources in their home communities.”

Hollan said some activities that individuals find helpful include writing in journals, talking to family, friends or clergy, exercising, participating in enjoyable hobbies or attending support groups focused on helping those who have lost a spouse.

Hollan and her team provide this comfort for many, including all families of patients served through Avera@Home Hospice, as well as other surviving spouses who could benefit from this group of services.

“The Avera mission is our foundation, and we truly recognize our roles. It’s being there for them, like Christ is there for us and for all who grieve,” she said. “Everyone’s grief journey is different. Our doors are always open and we are happy to walk with anyone on theirs.”

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