Grief is a heavy burden. Having people who can share that grief can be a way to lighten that oppressive weight.
For that reason, Hospice of the Central Peninsula is starting a support group for parents who have lost babies through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death.
The role of the group will be to gather people with a shared experience of loss to be there for each other and to listen, said Judy Swarner, who will serve as the group's facilitator.
Swarner had a miscarriage in 1982 and nearly died from the subsequent hemorrhaging. But after she regained her health, she found herself left with a persistent grief and few outlets.
"I didn't realize how difficult it would be," she said. "I didn't have support from any group of people except for family and church. I've been fortunate to have family to talk to."
About three months after the ordeal, she spoke to a close friend about it, unburdening herself for hours.
"That listening helped me more than anything. It was like I could put it behind me," she recalled. "It's never really over."
Sue Bezilla, the bereavement coordinator for Hospice, said the experience of losing a child varies by the child's age. Families who lose older children have memories, photographs and keepsakes. For a parent whose child miscarried or was stillborn, nothing remains but dashed dreams.
Hospice now is working with Central Peninsula General Hospital, which refers parents to the group, telling them that they can talk to people who really understand.
"I think this is really going to be helpful," Bezilla said.
Swarner's experiences eventually brought her to working with Hospice, an organization that helps families deal with terminal illnesses and death.
A former school teacher, mother of four and grandmother of five, she became interested in counseling and took training in the subject. She worked with groups at the Family Recovery Center and Al-Anon.
In March 1999, her mother was diagnosed with fast-moving terminal lung cancer. The doctor, the hospital and a friend recommended Hospice.
If there was no one else to talk to, Swarner said, she could always turn to the Hospice people. After her mother's death, she attended meetings of Circle of Friends, another Hospice support group for people who have suffered diverse personal losses.
"I have read a lot about death and dying," she said.
As many as one in four confirmed pregnancies miscarries, she learned, and she has encountered many people who shared her misfortune.
The group, officially called the "Share" Miscarriage Support Group, will first meet Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Usually it will meet once a month on the second Thursday. It is free.
All meetings will be confidential, and no one present will be obligated to speak. Participants do not need to attend every session.
The group is for adults, including fathers, who have lost infants. It is not confined to miscarriages. The meetings will use materials from SHARE Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support Inc., a national group providing support, comfort and hope to help families resolve grief in a positive way after the death of a baby.
"We are expanding it a little to include SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and the first year or so," Swarner explained.
Swarner also will lead training for Hospice volunteers, starting this evening at 6 p.m.
To sign up for the "Share" support group, any other Hospice group or volunteer training, call Bezilla at 262-0453.
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