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Virtual grief support helps ‘foster dad to hundreds’ find hope after loss

Frank Flodin of Riverside, Rhode Island, may be in his 80s, but he chats by Zoom video conferencing like a telecommuting pro.

Frank wasn’t always tech-savvy. Like many people, he had to adapt his ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learning to use a computer keeps Frank connected to his grief support group with HopeHealth, which went online in March for safety. He attends group once a week to cope with the loss of Renee, his beloved wife of 65 years.

Frank does the video chats from his dining room while seated in front of Renee’s doll collection. He loves talking about his wife. It makes him feel happy and sad all together.

“My wife and I, we’ve had such a wonderful life, you know, and we have a lot of memories,” he says through tears.

virtual grief support group
Frank joins his Loss of Spouse grief support on Zoom videoconferencing.

Foster parents to hundreds

The story of Frank and Renee is about the love of family—a very big family.

The couple met and married young. They shared a love of country/western music, including Rhode Island locals Eddie Zack & the Hayloft Jamboree and, in later years, Vince Gill.

Then they built their blended family.

“If anybody asks me, I tell them we have nine children,” Frank says. This includes five biological sons, one adopted son and three foster children who are permanent parts of their family.

That’s not all. Over a period of 20 years, Renee and Frank opened their home and hearts to roughly 200 foster children.

“Some came for a day, some came for a week, some came for a month,” he recalls. “My wife was so nurturing. She loved to take care of children.”

Getting through life without his love

Cropped shot of a senior couple holding hands

When their children were grown, Frank and Renee began spending winters in Florida. Frank still worked part-time truck driving and didn’t hang up his keys for good until age 79.

Then Renee began showing symptoms of dementia. At first, Frank cared for her at home with help from HopeHealth Visiting Nurse. When her health declined further, she went to the HopeHealth Hulitar Hospice Center for end-of-life care.

Renee’s stay at the Hulitar was a time for comfort and emotional reunions. Many of her former foster children came by to tell Renee and Frank about the wonderful ways the couple had touched their lives.

Renee passed away peacefully in November 2018. Frank was devastated and turned to HopeHealth for support once again.

“Everybody is in the same boat and we understand what each other is going through,” Frank says.

Diane Lambert, a HopeHealth grief counselor, gave Frank one-on-one counseling and encouraged him to try a loss-of-spouse grief support group, led by Guy Murgo.

Frank liked the group setting. “Everybody is in the same boat and we understand what each other is going through,” he says. He also joined the local senior center and befriended three fellow widowers.

Over the course of 2019, Frank participated in all of HopeHealth’s grief support services and events, including a grief-support retreat called the Weekend of Hope & Healing.

“Frank is a very kind and considerate man. He’s comfortable offering his support to others in group,” Diane says.

Today, Frank lives in an in-law apartment with his son and still Zooms into his support group every week.

True to form, he most enjoys spending time with his family, including 30 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. That family is the lasting legacy of his life with Renee.

“We had a lot of good times together,” Frank says. “I just had such a wonderful marriage.”

Struggling to cope after losing a loved one? Sign up for a virtual grief support group, check out our grief support resource library, or read our grief support blog posts.

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