My name is Rich Lawson and I lost my wonderful wife, Susan, just 3 years ago in 2010. The pain was twice as hard for me to deal with, because I knew that my two wonderful boys, Wyatt and Phillip, were also losing their mother. My loss was quite abrupt and unexpected, which is why getting into grief support was so important. New Hope Grief Support Community helped me get through one of the hardest times in my life and provided me not just with compassion, but also with the tools to deal with my loss.
Before I share more of my New Hope experience with you, I must tell you a little about my wife, Susan. I met Susan on November 8th, 1986 at a friend’s wedding reception. One year later, I met her again-surprisingly enough-at another friend’s wedding. It must have been a sign, as 3 years later we exchanged vows. Susan and I shared many, many happy times together throughout our marriage. I was devastated when she died and just totally numb all over. You always remember the dates, so I remember that it was Memorial Day. She had complained of some pain in her abdomen that day, but I still had hope. But her diabetes and a seizure were just too much for her body to handle, and I lost her. Looking back, I think that having to tell my two boys that their mother had passed away was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.
So with me and my two boys suddenly dealing with this unexpected tragedy, I knew how important grief support would be to my recovery. This was when New Hope Grief Support Community came into my life. I had actually met New Hope’s executive director, Sue Beeney, at a Hope for the Holidays event at my church. This did me so much good that I sought Sue out after the event. She told me about New Hope and how important grief support was to my recovery. It was then that I decided to try an 8 week recovery program with New Hope, not really knowing what to expect. In retrospect, I must say without a doubt that this was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.
I would certainly recommend New Hope to anyone who has lost a loved one, as it gave me the tools to work through the loss of my wife. The two people who ran the program were great, which made this experience so much easier for me. I was so impressed by how Sue was not judgmental at all in our group meetings. No matter what emotions we were showing, as normal grieving people do, she encouraged us all to open up at every meeting. I also found that hearing others share, made it that much easier for me to do the same.
I was looking forward to the meetings every week and learning how to get through my loss. I can proudly say that I never missed a meeting! It also really helped that my group and New Hope realized that I was not just taking on my own grief, but also the grief of my two boys. As is often the case when a husband or wife dies, there are often children involved going through that same loss. New Hope helped me to get through my own emotional loss, which in turn helped me deal with the fact that my boys had lost their mother.
One major thing that New Hope provided me with was being able to focus on my wife’s life and not how I lost her. New Hope and its passionate and understanding staff reminded me that Susan and I shared many, many special times when she was alive. I still remember how we went to Hawaii for our honeymoon and returned many times after that. It was such a wonderful experience, being there with Susan is something I will never forget. I can still feel the heat of the beach caressing my face as we took a zodiac boat up the coast of Hawaii. New Hope encouraged me to focus on all these special times I had with my wife. They even gave me the confidence to return to Hawaii after Susan’s passing, and spread her ashes this past July in Maui. None of this would have been possible without all the great people I came in contact with at New Hope. Grief is not something you should have to go through alone, and thanks to New Hope I didn’t have to.
Meet our New Hope HAGS
By: Candice Stacy
Why would a group of members of The Assistance League of Long Beach deliberately call themselves HAGS? There really is a good reason. These women came together in 2007 because a common experience joins them together. Each woman had suffered the death of a child.
Assistance League member, Joan Twedell’s husband Wayne, was a co-founder of New Hope Grief Support Community, an organization that has been helpful to her in dealing with the loss of her daughter, Jennifer, as an infant. Joan knew there were other women in the Assistance League who had also suffered the loss of a child and would benefit from being together to offer support and understanding to one another.
Under the leadership of Susan K. Beeney, Executive Director and co-founder of New Hope Grief Support Community, a group of Assistance League women were invited to the home of League member Dee Cockriel. Susan led the group through various discussions and exercises over a span of 8 weeks. These discussions were designed to help them find the hope and healing of “new normal/new different” on their journey of grief. Each member shared her personal story of loss and coping strategies. What started as a group of women, who were merely acquainted, became a group of close, dear friends. A bond was formed and though the formal sessions were completed, the thought of disbanding was out of the question. Thus, the HAGS group was formed; it stands for Hats & Grief Support.
New Hope Grief Support Community has many aspects, one of which is offering grief support for children. One way New Hope helps these young people is to offer them “Happy Hats”, which are brightly colored, hand knitted hats that they are told to put on when they need a break from their sadness.
The women, who originally came together to share their stories of loss, decided they could give back to New Hope and to Susan by creating the hand knitted hats for the children and teens who had suffered the death of a loved one.
The hat making even became therapeutic for these ladies. Now when they gather, out comes the yarn, needles or Nifty Knitter looms. To date, almost 2000 “Happy Hats” have been created from the caring hands of these women who turned their grief into action.
Along with Joan Twedell and Dee Cockriel, the other HAGS include: Melva Miller, Mary Crane, Candice Stacy, Annette Farber, Mary Griley, Judi Mellow, Norma Marter, Ruth Wright, Carolyn Lockhart, Eileen McCafferty, Patti Brown and Nancy Fuller. Diane Markey, although not an official member of the HAGS, has also contributed an abundant supply of beautiful “Happy Hats”. In honor of Volunteer Appreciation month, we would like to say a big THANK YOU to the HAGS. Our hats off to you!
It has been just two years and one month to the day that my mom passed suddenly, after having gone into a diabetic coma. Just as my family and I were really truly beginning to cope with this, I lost my older brother, Guy, tragically to suicide. This was the second tragic death that my family, my two sisters Yolanda and Sonjia had suffered, and I was feeling extremely vulnerable. I was feeling angry and felt depressed, I was not in a good place.
It was at this time that I chose to seek grief support through New Hope Grief Support Community. I decided to attend one of their grief camps, really not knowing what to expect. Looking back, this was one of the best things I could have done for myself. I learned right away that my emotions were normal, and being with others going through the same thing was exactly what I needed.
I knew right away that I was very angry, and New Hope immediately made me feel that this was okay. It was such a relief to be with people with similar experiences and to connect with emotions of others. I was suffering with the guilt that I could have done more for my mother and brother when they were alive, and New Hope helped me to understand that this also was okay; guilt was normal after a loved one dies. I learned that that everything I was feeling was normal. However, New Hope also taught me that there is no normal after the loss of a loved one, only a road leading to a new normal. I learned that there is no wrong way to grieve, and I really liked hearing that. I also found it very helpful to see all the different stages of grief in one room. It showed me that there was hope to get through this journey called grief.
I would recommend New Hope to anyone who has lost a loved one. The help and support I received from the New Hope staff and volunteers was comforting. The opportunity I had at camp to journey with others in the same place as me was life changing. I was glad to know that there were others who had experienced a loss, but were also on a road to recovery, this was and is still extremely encouraging to me. I found my experience at grief camp almost like a glimpse into the future, and I knew that I would be able to get through this. As I think of this journey, some might be one stop ahead, and others might be 15 stops ahead in dealing with the stages of grief, and that this is okay.
I know that the loss of my mom and brother will never go away, but New Hope made me feel that I would get through this. I genuinely felt the love from them, and knew that it was truly from the bottom of their hearts. I also enjoyed the new found relationships that I built with the other campers. It was in those relationships that I also found the strength and support I needed to continue my journey of grief. New Hope created the space I needed to focus and remember the life of my mom and brother. I felt very comfortable sharing stories about Guy at camp, as I knew others were willing to listen and do the same.
One story I shared at camp was how Guy and I had always wanted to start a clothing company together. We talked about things like this every day, but the clothing company never quite panned out. Just seeing my brother laughing, thinking, or just playing his role as big brother is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
My mom and Guy had a way of reaching out to others around them and touching their lives in special ways, I still think about my mom and brother all the time and I know that this feeling will always be there. New Hope taught me that this is okay and normal to grieve, but most importantly, that I do not have to take this journey of grief alone.
New Hope, Where There Was None
By Mike Castlen
It was early Saturday morning over 10 years ago, June first to be exact, that a knock at our front door changed our lives forever. When I opened the door I was asked by a police officer if I was Mr. Castlen? I replied yes, he asked if he could come inside and if Mrs. Castlen was home? He came inside and I went and got my wife. The officer began telling us about an accident that our 21 year old son Lucas had been in, and how the accident killed him. In shock and disbelief, the officer shared that Lucas had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel of his vehicle while driving home from work. He was headed northbound on the 405 freeway approaching the Seventh Street exit; he crashed into the center divider. Upon impact Lucas was ejected from the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene. There are no words that can describe the overwhelming emotions we were experiencing as my wife and I tried to fully grasp what happened to our son Lucas.
We are still feeling the effects of our son’s death today; some of them good and some them we would rather not be a part of. We think of Lucas often and remember how he lived his life, and what made him so special. One fond memory of Lucas was when my wife Debbie and I went on vacation to celebrate her birthday. Upon returning home from our trip Lucas was waiting at the front door ready to greet us, and give his mom her birthday present. Debbie is a huge fan of anything leopard, so Lucas was so excited for her to open her gift and see the leopard purse he bought her. Our son was very generous and thoughtful when it came to giving presents. He was thoughtful of birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and all holidays—he would always plan way in advance to get you the perfect gift.
As time went on our grieving process was not getting any easier, my wife and I were fortunate enough to learn about New Hope from our son’s girlfriend. We enrolled in an eight week grief support group that was facilitated by New Hope’s founder Susan Beeney. In group we shared our pain and sorrow and the story of how we lost our son. After we shared Sue told us she was headed south on the 405 freeway the morning Lucas died. She remembered sitting in traffic and seeing all of the emergency vehicles, she began to pray and ask God to direct those affected by the tragedy to New Hope for support. It was in that moment that we all realized Sue’s prayers had been answered. During the course of our group we learned that we were not going crazy, everything we felt was normal, and that our grief was a journey. Debbie and I were given the tools needed to understand and deal with our grief, we knew what to expect during our grief journey. We learned that you must allow yourself to work through your grief, not around it or over it, but through it. New Hope constantly reminded us that we were not alone.
New Hope is a community comprised of caring people who are willing to support and walk with those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. My wife and I would encourage anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one to utilize the services that New Hope offers. As a result of our encounter with New Hope we now have been trained and volunteer as grief group facilitators giving back to other parents who have lost children. We also found strength and healing in meeting with other parents who lost children, so we created an Alumni network of parents who meet each month for a potluck. Our experience with New Hope has allowed us to find healing, but most of all it has given us New Hope, where there was no hope.
It has been close to four years since I lost nine of my closest and dearest family members. I had never imagined that Christmas Eve 2008 would be the last good time and the most horrific time I would share together with my loved ones. There were twenty-four of us celebrating our traditional Christmas Eve party which was interrupted by a senseless act of violence that changed my life forever. That night my sister’s ex-husband entered my parents’ home dressed as Santa Claus and attempted to take all of our lives with semi-automatic weapons and an incendiary device.
That Christmas Eve I lost my parents, my two brothers, my two sisters, my two sisters-in-law, and my seventeen year old nephew. I was the youngest of five children and the only one to survive. Thirteen of my nieces and nephews had lost one if not both parents. In addition to our losses, my eight year old daughter and seventeen year old niece had both suffered gunshot wounds. My beautiful life that was consumed by our close family bonds had turned into an abyss of overwhelming trauma, shock, pain, heart-ache, disgust, fear and chaos.
During the aftermath of this tragedy we had plenty of extended family and friends supporting us, but none could comfort or give us the knowledge and understanding of what we were experiencing. I had to really depend on my soul and spirit to be strong and have the faith to overcome the challenges that lay ahead. I felt ready to face those challenges and move forward through my grief so I could be there for my family, but the reality was that I couldn’t do it alone.
About six weeks after that tragic evening I was feeling overwhelmed with having to balance everyday life and my new role as matriarch. My children, nieces and nephew, who were minors, needed more than just our family circle of security and love. They needed to know that they were not the only children in the world grieving a loss of a loved one. I realized then, that there had to be some kind of special place or setting, besides a counselor’s office, where they could feel safe and comfortable to share their feelings and emotions.
I began to search online for this special place; this is how I discovered New Hope. I remembered feeling a little apprehensive about calling and sharing our story. When I called New Hope it was so difficult having to share our story with a stranger, but I knew I had to do it. When I called a woman answered the phone, Susan Beeney, as I shared my story she comforted me with her calm voice and caring words. Susan was a true heaven-sent connecting our family to a path of hope and healing.
During our conversation Susan recommended our family attend the New Hope Family Grief Camp, and we did. It was exactly what I was looking for and what my family needed. Attending camp was a wonderful experience, afterwards my children, nieces and nephew shared wonderful stories of all the beautiful things they shared and learned. It was such a memorable experience for them, one that still brings a smile to their faces.
Almost four years after that tragic Christmas Eve I can proudly say we are all doing well and moving forward positively. Our journey hasn’t been easy, the road is still long, but I have faith we will continue to embrace life. I am finding new ways to heal and enjoy life, I am currently working on a book that I hope someday will bring hope and healing into the lives of others. The book will be in memory of my family members Joseph and Alicia Ortega, James and Teresa Ortega, Charles and Cheri Ortega, Alicia Ortiz, Sylvia Ortega, and Michael Ortiz.
I am so grateful to New Hope for opening their doors to my family and offering us support in our time of need. They are a true blessing in my life and I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for us.
The Alonso Family
A letter from Patrick
I became involved with New Hope about one year after my husband died in May 2010, after a long battle with cancer. I thought I was doing pretty well dealing with his death and all the emotional, physical, and financial challenges that came with it. I did well when I had help from friends & family, and could find more stuff to fill my time. It was almost a year later, in March of 2011, I realized I wasn’t doing too well and slipping into a depression. Loneliness was setting in and the future was full of dread and fear of the unknown. A few friends suggested I attend some type of grief counseling/therapy but all I could think was “why would I want to sit around with a group of strangers and all we have in common is someone we loved died?” Unintentionally I began to isolate myself and tried to deal with my feelings and loneliness all on my own. I was pretty sure no one would understand the depth of my pain, sorrow, and fears I had for my future.
Time passed and I was not doing well. I decided to call Sue Beeney at New Hope Grief Support Community. After speaking with Sue I enrolled in an eight week grief support group. My group facilitator, seven others, and I were all there for the same reason—someone we loved died. Much to my amazement I felt at home and comfortable with the peers in my group. Contrary to my thoughts, the group wasn’t terrible, it was good and brought me healing. With each passing week we became kindred spirits as we journeyed together. I no longer felt isolated and alone. I began to feel like I fit in somewhere. During the group I learned to accept and work through my grief and sorrow, and that it is an on-going process. I learned that what I felt after Fred died, and what I feel today, is normal. I discovered that life after the death of someone you love does eventually transition and we find our “new normal”, a new and different normal. As part of my new normal I find healing in volunteering at New Hope. Volunteering has allowed me to reach out and help others in the same way New Hope helped me—reminding them that they do not have to grieve alone.