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How a widow found new meaning through poetry, grief support groups, and helping others

The journey through grief can be long and overwhelming, as anyone who has lost a loved one knows. There are many ways to mourn a loss, many ways to heal, and complex emotions to process.

Pam Goodness of Rhode Island learned these lessons after her husband and life partner of 34 years, Lee, died in 2018.

“It was unimaginable that he would not be in my life,” Pam recalls. “I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

To cope, Pam leaned on HopeHealth’s grief support services, including group support, individual counseling and a grief retreat. Each experience helped her feel less alone and more confident in the validity of her emotions.

Today she is giving back by sharing her wisdom and skills as a HopeHealth volunteer.

A published poet, Pam recently co-led a poetry workshop with fellow poet, Helen D’Ordine, for adults at HopeHealth’s annual Weekend of Hope & Healing, held virtually this year. The workshop was one of several hands-on activities offered to nurture the body, mind and spirit.

“It’s such an environment of support, care and empathy. You feel like you’re surrounded in a cocoon of love and kindness,” Pam says.

Expressing oneself—verbally, in writing or by making something like a craft or food—is a helpful way to cope with grief. In her workshop Pam helped participants write a poem about their loss.

“It helps to get it out. Seeing the words, saying the words to others, helps the pain to soften,” Pam says.

“Listening to others validates that you’re not going crazy. Eventually you see a pathway to healing,” Pam says.

Lee’s death came after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Pam lovingly cared for him at home until his condition declined to a point she couldn’t manage.

He was admitted to the HopeHealth Hulitar Hospice Center in Providence. Although she was reluctant to start inpatient care, she found that “everybody there was so wonderful and kind and compassionate. It was the best place he could be.”

Thankfully, Lee’s passing was peaceful. But then another painful chapter began for Pam. Mere weeks later, she lost her job as a school librarian after the school decided to close their library.

Now facing a life without her husband and the career she loved, Pam struggled to get out of bed each morning. “I didn’t know how to operate. I wasn’t sure what I was anymore,” she says.

Pam needed help, so she decided to give HopeHealth’s loss-of-spouse support group a try. (Support groups are free and open to the public. Find a virtual grief support group.)

The support group was led by grief counselor Guy Murgo, and to Pam’s surprise, she fit right in. She found comfort among others who shared her experience, and nobody tried to talk her out of her feelings.

“Listening to others validates that you’re not going crazy. Eventually you see a pathway to healing,” she says.

Because Lee passed away in HopeHealth’s care, Pam was also eligible to receive free one-on-one counseling. Again working with Guy, Pam addressed her lingering guilt about asking for help in Lee’s final days.

Guy even arranged for Pam to speak with Dr. Edward Martin, medical director for HopeHealth, who explained the clinical process of Lee’s irreversible decline. At last, hearing the science behind Lee’s condition helped Pam accept that her decision on Lee’s care was the right one.

Today, Pam still misses Lee terribly but is slowly building a new identity. She shares her empathy and open ears as a volunteer co-facilitator of virtual grief support groups.

“You need to go through that pain and come through the other side of it,” she says.

You can read Pam’s poetry in her book, Walking Widowed: Reflections on Loss, available on Amazon.

Forward Into Life

by Pamela L. Goodness

I carry you with me as I go forward into life.

You who I hold in the depths of my heart … forever loved.

A bond not put asunder by death’s icy grip … forever lovers.

Treasured friendship bound not by borders
of time and space . . . forever friends.

I carry you with me as I go forward into life.

Feeling hopeless and alone after losing a loved one? Sign up for a virtual grief support group or read through our grief support resource library.

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