New Hope is so grateful for Richard Fienberg, he is currently serving on New Hope’s Board of Directors, was past Board Chair, and has been volunteering with New Hope since 2000. Richard believes whole-heartedly that New Hope has a great impact on so many grieving people and it truly speaks to his heart.
Richard was in his early 20’s when his best friend in high school, Craig Landa, was murdered in the early 1980’s. Craig and Richard both shared a passion for the law, and ironically the day Craig died, was the same day Craig’s mom received the letter in the mail that her son passed the California Bar Exam. Craig’s untimely death really put Richard into a tailspin; he quickly discovered that he had no coping skills to deal with such a sudden loss. He knew he wasn’t prepared to deal with all his grief; he was in total shock and had no idea what to do next. Richard soon found himself becoming very withdrawn from life shutting out friends and family.
Initially, Richard tried all sort of things to deal with the grief. He tried psychics, meditation, and even hypnosis but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, he realized that to move forward he would have to accept his friend’s death, not knowing why he was murdered. Despite many attempts, Richard still needed to deal with his grief, but in the 1980’s, unfortunately; there were no local grief support organizations.
In 2000, Richard met the future founder of New Hope, Susan Beeney, and overtime he shared his experience with grief after the death of Craig. Sue had shared with him she had recently been considering creating a grief support charity organization; they both agreed that an organization that dealt strictly with grief support was long overdue. Richard had a wealth of knowledge as a business man and lawyer so naturally he assisted Sue in establishing New Hope as charity organization. New Hope was now taking shape and becoming the first non-profit in Long Beach designed to meet the needs of grieving people. Richard was chiefly responsible for laying the foundation for New Hope’s bylaws, he knew building a strong foundation would be vital for New Hope to become the organization it is today. His contributions to New Hope then and now have been instrumental.
In 2010, Richard experienced another major death when he lost another close friend, Gene Koenigsberg, from kidney failure. Richard and Gene spent their days together at Lakewood High School; over the years kept in close touch. Because Richard spent so much time volunteering at New Hope he had a better understanding about grief than he did 30 ago when Craig died. Richard’s time at New Hope made him better prepared to deal with his grief, and provide support to Gene’s family. Richard had learned many things at New Hope and was determined to share what he had learned with Gene’s family to make their grief journey easier. He shared you must give yourself permission to go through the stages of grief, and remember the overwhelming feelings you experience are all normal with grief. Richard found that as he was helping Gene’s family find hope and healing, he was healing himself.
Looking back Richard knows that if he never lost his two close friends Craig and Gene, he might not have been involved with New Hope and missed opportunities to grow and to serve for this very special organization. In addition to serving at New Hope, Richard also served the last three years on the Committee of 300, and is a Council Commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America. Richard enjoys being involved with organizations like these because of his heartfelt desire to be involved with organizations that provide volunteer opportunities that benefit others, just like New Hope.
Richard was born and raised in Long Beach where he lives with his beautiful wife Kelly and their three children, Craig, Adrianna, and Hillary. His professional career includes work for the UFC Gym, formerly LA Boxing-franchise as their National Director of Real Estate. He currently is the Vice President for Club Pilates, Franchise, LLC which according to Richard is on its way to becoming the largest national Pilates brand in the country.
“Grief is the hardest work you will ever have to do” shared Moe Simpson. She learned this after her husband Mike died in 2012 from an unexpected heart attack at sixty-three years old. Moe worked her way through her own grief by volunteering at New Hope and helping countless of at-risk teens to understand their personal journey of grief.
Moe started volunteering with New Hope at the Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy (Sunburst) on the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos six months before Mike passed away, she was very familiar with how important the program was. Prior to volunteering, Moe spent twenty-seven years as a probation officer dealing with at-risk youth. Her work taught her how important words could be, and how important it was to say the right words to turn these kids around and get them headed in the right direction. During her career, Moe witnessed many kids go on to college after their sentences were served and start a whole new life.
Now having experienced major grief with the passing of her husband, Moe was even more motivated to serve the at-risk grieving teens at Sunburst. Although Moe did not receive grief support herself, she found healing in serving the Sunburst teens. A key component to grief support is being surrounded by people who care and understand your grief—Moe was experiencing this with the teens. Helping all the teens at Sunburst get through their grief was slowly helping Moe to get through her own grief. She found much joy not only helping them to recover from the death of their loved ones, but inspiring them to be successful in life.
During her time volunteering at New Hope Moe made many friends along the way, many of whom were instrumental in helping her get through the loss of Mike and moving into her new normal. Moe’s time spent at New Hope helped her to recover and be able to look back and remember just how special Mike was, and will always be. She fondly remembers their last trip together to Italy to see their nieces get married. It was a wonderful wedding, and that much more special because she was there with Mike.
Moe continues to give back to New Hope by volunteering and helping to fundraise with the annual Community Support Campaign. New Hope’s 4th Annual Golf Tournament Fore Hope was dedicated to Mike and Moe was the guest speaker—the tournament was on Mike’s birthday. Moe shared “there are no adjectives to adequately express how great New Hope is and how important it has been in my life”.
Moe continues to volunteer with New Hope at the Sunburst program. She attended Jordan High School in Long Beach with New Hope’s founder Susan Beeney. Moe now lives in Orange County, and loves reading spiritual books and getting together with her friends and discussing spiritual matters. Moe knows how important both God and the human spirit are not just in grief recovery, but also in everyday life as she continues to find her New Normal.
Tommy Burns, Jr. was only twenty-six when he suffered the loss of his dad, Tom Burns, Sr. in 2006; he was only fifty-six. Many years passed and Tommy was not aware that he still needed to work through the loss of his father. In 2008, Tommy came in contact with New Hope, but not seeking grief support, instead having a strong desire to volunteer for the organization. He was able to meet with New Hope’s founder, Sue Beeney, and discovered that he really needed grief support. So before Tommy could help pursue his desire to help others get through their grief, he first had to work on getting through his own grief.
Tommy enrolled and attended a grief group and quickly discovered how healthy it was for him to work through his grief in a group setting where he felt safe and was able to rationalize things. Everything was openly shared among the group, which helped greatly in Tom’s recovery process. His group was led by New Hope’s current clinical director, Jerry Wilson. In group, Tommy made many new friends, and these groups made him remember the special times he spent working with his dad in his job as a carpenter.
Upon completing his group, Tommy wanted to give back and volunteer with New Hope, so he started volunteering at the New Hope Family Camps. He immediately found it extremely rewarding to witness firsthand the major changes taking place in the lives of the families at camp in just one short weekend. Being able to invest time and energy at camp and accomplishing so much made these camps extremely special to Tommy. Seeing these kids and their parents step outside their normal lives and be totally transformed in such a short period of time are what the camps are all about.
At camp Tommy worked with the Smith family; the family lost their dad to suicide. Tommy built a good relationship with the mother and her four children during camp that extended beyond the weekend. Tom helped coordinate efforts to raise additional funds to help the “Smith” family with food, clothing, resources and extra prayer to help them on their road to recovery. This caring relationship all started at the camp and demonstrates how New Hope’s volunteers, like Tommy, have a personal investment in all who come through their doors. After serving seven years as a volunteer at New Hope Family Camps, Tommy officially became a volunteer grief facilitator in 2014. Tommy shared “I feel truly blessed to serve in this role and seeing the immediate impact of New Hope’s Family Camps on the families. These experiences are one of the most inspiring things I’ve been a part of”.
Tommy lost his grandfather, Francisco, and his uncle, Theodoro, in 2013. He used his own experience with loss and the things he learned at New Hope to help him and his family with the grieving process in a healthy way. They have all embraced their New Normal, and are flourishing.
As part of Tommy’s New Normal he married his wife, Kristy and they have a beautiful seven-month old baby, Lorelai. Tommy works in business consulting, loves going to the beach, listening to audio books and practicing the art of Jiu Jitsu!
Helping grieving people in grief-groups realize they are not alone is one of the biggest benefits for Linda who is a volunteer group facilitator at New Hope. Aside from training, Linda’s ability to lead good groups comes from experiencing the death of her son, David, in 2003, her husband, Byron, in 2007 and her stepson, Scott, in 2011. Each of these deaths were difficult for Linda in their own ways, thankfully her daughter, Noelle, her current husband, Gary and many of her dear friends and family played a role in helping Linda heal over the years. Aside from the support of good friends and family, Linda’s faith in God gave her strength to face her grief.
One of the more difficult deaths for her to deal with was the loss of her son at the young age of 18. One of the things that made David’s passing especially hard for Linda was it was her first major loss as an adult. Linda suddenly found herself dealing with many different emotions. She was devastated by this sudden loss, while at the same time she felt guilty for not being able to protect her son from dying. The grief she was experiencing was overwhelming; she had no idea what to expect and the affects it would have on her. Linda thought she would never feel normal or experience happiness again after her son died.
David was very popular and loved by many at his high school; the news of his death had traveled quickly. David’s big personality, humor and smile would be missed, especially by his family and close friends. Linda knew that she would not be the only one grieving the death of David, but his high-school friends would be grieving too. Fortunately, Linda knew New Hope’s founder Susan Beeney from church, she offered to host a grief support group for David’s friends—Linda and her husband allowed the groups to be held in their home. This group for David’s friends became a great space for them to learn about their grief and how to express their feelings in a safe and familiar environment.
Two years after David’s death Sue tried reaching out to Linda to see if she’d be interested in volunteering. Linda never responded because her husband, Byron, was diagnosed with cancer—it eventually took his life. It wasn’t until after the death of her son, husband, and stepson that Linda decided to volunteer at New Hope. Because of Linda’s experience with her own grief, she wanted to serve in a role that would allow her turn her pain into a purpose. She decided to become a grief group facilitator and help others get through the same grief struggles she had gone through.
As a facilitator, Linda is helping grieving people to understand that they are not alone in their grief-journey. She enjoys witnessing the bonds created in the groups and how often participants do not want them to end. Linda shared the importance of group is “People feel less alone and less judged when they are around people going through the same thing.” Linda understands that having a safe space to gather each week and express feelings with others going through the same struggles is good for the soul. She witnessed this first-hand in her living room with David’s friends. Looking back Linda now knows volunteering at New Hope is where she is supposed to be—bringing hope and healing into the lives of other grieving people.
Each year Linda gets together with David’s friends from high school and they honor the anniversary of his passing. Linda is a long-time Long Beach resident and lives with her husband Gary. They love to travel, and when not traveling they love to spend time with their daughter Noelle, husband Jacob and their six children.
Debbie and I went on our first date on January 2, 1981. Three weeks later I told her that I thought she was the one I would marry. I proposed in May. Our friends encouraged us to not rush into things so we waited until September to be married. She died one week short of our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary.
We had no children. Our lives were our jobs, our cats, and our vacations. Deb always felt that vacation was real life, and work was what we did to make vacations possible. I was a motorcyclist and she learned to ride in order to spend time with me. For many years we went on an annual two-week ride exploring the back roads of California. She had decided after putting 10,000 miles on her 750 Honda Shadow that she was done motorcycling because it was just too risky. Her last ride was just months ahead of her cancer diagnosis.
I was with Debbie at the doctor’s office when we received the news that she had stage-four breast cancer. Deb was a nurse and had worked in oncology early in her career, she asked a lot of questions. I listened trying to understand, but most of what I heard did not have any meaning to me yet. It was late afternoon on a Friday, Debbie and I went for coffee and she explained to me that stage-four meant that the cancer had spread into other parts of her body and that it most certainly meant that even in the best case scenario this was a death sentence. After more tests, and a second opinion, we learned that she had only 18-24 months to live.
Debbie was the Assistant Dean of Student Health Services at Loyola Marymount University; a job she loved. We had talked about the fact that she would need to stop working. I was surprised when she announced to me within a week that she had quit her job and would be finished with work by the end of the week. This was the beginning of an amazing journey.
I spent the weekend after hearing the news of her cancer not sleeping and unable to eat. I would go hot and then cold. My body would quiver and shake like there was an earthquake inside me. My physical reaction was a clear indication that I was not ready for this journey. I met with a counselor and learned that these were normal responses for someone experiencing emotional shock. It took weeks for my mood to normalize; and then I was left with deep sadness.
Debbie spent her last 20 months caring for the rest of us, saying her goodbyes, finishing those few things left on her bucket list, and preparing for death. At 51 she died too young.
After her death I was lost. I remember little from that time; I was numb. I could not sleep. The days passed slowly, in a blur. My boss was supportive. On a lunch break at Taco Bell I encountered an elderly couple – the thought in my mind was that this should have been Deb and I one day – I began to cry. I left work early that day because the pain of grief was more than I could manage. It was not long after this that I resigned 8 months after her death.
This was the turning point for my journey of grief. My grieving style is called instrumental. I began by redecorating my house, which meant fresh paint, new window coverings and art, and new furniture; a whole new look for a whole new life. But six months later, although feeling better, my grief was not done. Next I went back to school to become a therapist; my goal was to become a grief specialist. About a year into my Masters program I reached out to New Hope to see if I could help others with their grief.
After being trained and attending a grief support group I began leading groups in 2008. With each group I lead I was able to tell my story. I learned that grief heals in community and that grief groups are the best place to find the support we need. As we carry the burden of grief with others our grief becomes easier to bear.
During my 6 years volunteering with New Hope I led adult grief groups, trained other facilitators, and volunteered at Family Camp. Being a volunteer has given me the opportunity to continue to honor and memorialize Debbie’s life. Debbie had a profound impact on my life while alive and continues to impact my life and the lives of others. I found my new normal in helping others move through their grief.
I was born at Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood, CA. My mother was in labor for many hours due to the size of my head, she eventually had a C-section. The doctor told my father “congratulations you have a baby boy, three-fourths head and one quarter body”— my nickname in elementary school was Big-Head. I grew up in North Long Beach as an only child on Coke Street; this is where I spent my childhood making memories, some good and some bad. My parents divorced when I was 11, my dad had full custody of me and that was my first experience with grief. Before the age of 16 all my grandparents had died. My mother who was full of life and beauty struggled with addiction and this made our relationship difficult. In my twenties I partied, made dumb choices and attended college trying to figure out this thing called life. After graduating college I worked in the non-profit sector and have been doing it for over a decade. My mother’s addiction grew worse and so did our relationship, I took on the role of parent trying my best to support and love her despite her battle with addiction and depression. Regardless of the circumstances, we loved each other unconditionally.
In March 2007 I was working for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach as an afterschool program director. I was in the midst of planning a basketball fundraiser, teachers at International versus Caesar Chavez Elementary. The day of the event is one I will never forget. I was loading my girlfriend’s Toyota Highlander in front of International Elementary when I received a phone message. The message was from a caretaker at the board and care my mother was living in at the time, the woman said “David, there has been an emergency; your mothered has passed away”. I remember thinking the emergency has passed—she’s dead. My mom was only 57 years old and I was 27, I knew my life would be different. The night before her death I had spoken to her and she said she’d been praying for my event. Despite the news of my mom’s death I somehow summoned enough strength to push forward with the fundraiser—it was very successful.
A week after her death I viewed her body, said my goodbyes, and cremated her. Two weeks later I planned my mom’s memorial, gave her eulogy, hoping to find some closure and move forward. A few months after her death I had a new job, maintained my relationship with my girlfriend, worked out and found time for friends and hobbies. My new job was with the Salvation Army working with returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. I discovered that many of these veterans and their families had many un-resolved grief issues from war. I began to look for resources in the area that could support them, in 2008 I found New Hope. I quickly built a relationship with Sue Beeney, and was able to provide services for my clients. It had been a year since my mom died and I felt good, but deep down I felt something that would occasionally disturb me. Over a breakfast meeting with Sue I shared this, she knew my mom had died, and without hesitation she told me “you’re grieving”, and like most I disagreed. Nevertheless, two weeks later I attended a grief support group at New Hope and Sue was our facilitator.
I did not know what to expect in the group, I felt awkward sharing my most intimate feelings and thoughts with a group of strangers. As each week past those strangers became friends who genuinely cared and supported me and vice versa. Together we were working through our pain and gaining the tools we would need to successfully face our grief. Before joining the group I shared with my dad that I felt bad for not really crying over the loss of my mom, he said “buddy, your feelings are your feelings and you shouldn’t feel bad for not crying” turns out he was right—that’s what I learned in group. Allowing myself to trust the process brought about tears of both joy and pain.
During my group Sue asked me to volunteer as a counselor at the upcoming Kids Camp, I reluctantly said yes. At camp I met a five year old boy who shared with me how he missed his mommy; it was in that moment that I realized I was right where I suppose to be. I continued volunteering for five years as a counselor and helping to raise money for New Hope. I found that serving and giving back to other grieving people was helping me to discover my new normal. In 2011 I was offered a position at New Hope as the Director of Marketing & Development, and in November of 2014 I was promoted to the Executive Director. If seven years ago after my mom died someone told me I would be operating a grief organization I would have said you’re crazy. Now I can’t imagine not working here.
When my mom died my amazing girlfriend Gertrude stood by me as I grieved and figured out how to live life without my mom. Four years after my mom died I got to make her my wife and almost two years later we had our son Isaiah. Isaiah will never get to meet his grandmother, but I look forward to sharing photos and memories of my mom with him. What I have learned is that grief comes in all shapes and sizes and is not one-size-fits-all. I’ve learned that it’s much easier to grieve with others than to do it alone. You cannot ignore your grief, it waits for you and the sooner you embrace it the better off you will be.
I am most thankful that my grief journey led me to New Hope; I learned to express my grief in healthy ways. I am more compassionate and have a greater ability to empathize with other grieving people. As the Executive Director at New Hope I want to continue to offer the same support that was offered to me 7 years ago when my mom died—without it I don’t know where I’d be. I share this story with the hope that you may find the strength and the courage to embrace your grief. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but you are not alone. Godspeed Ahead!
Ashley can still remember Chuck as the class-clown in junior high and how she could not stand him. He was always making the teacher upset and getting Ashely and her friends in trouble. Little did Ashley know that a decade later she’d be dating the class-clown. Ashley and Chuck re-connected on social media in 2005 it was then that she began to appreciate Chuck’s sense of humor and they began dating. From that first date they were inseparable and she knew Chuck was her soul-mate. A little after a year of dating Chuck shared he was born with a rare blood disorder called fanconi’s anemia and had been dealing with it for most of his life with no real problems.
In March of 2007 doctors at City of Hope discovered that his disorder was beginning to cause him major health issues. After many tests and doctor visits it was determined that Chuck had to have a bone marrow transplant. To make matters worse City of Hope had only treated patients with his disorder twice, and it was found to be a very difficult condition to treat. Prior to the transplant in October 2007 Chuck moved in with Ashley and her family due to financial hardship. During this whole ordeal their relationship and love for each other grew deeper, Chuck asked Ashley for her hand in marriage—she said yes! When they were engaged Ashley’s parents were married for over 30 years and she hoped that her and Chuck would top that. The bone marrow transplant was considered a success, and the excitement from the engagement was setting in.
Chuck continued to receive post-surgery care and treatment for his condition at the City of Hope in Duarte, CA. Despite the successful surgery, Chuck was battling with pneumonia. The effects of the pneumonia eventually created complications and lead to him having lesions on his brain. After many, many tests it was discovered that Chuck had a fungal infection in his brain, and chance of survival was less than 1%. Chuck had a seizure which caused him to have to be intubated, and the medication was no longer helping him. Ashley and Chuck had a conversation prior to his surgery and he shared that he did not want to suffer; Ashely knew it was time to let Chuck go. At the young age of 25 this was the hardest decision Ashley ever had to make. Chuck was 20 days short of his 26th birthday. When Chuck took his last breath he had a smile on his face. Ashely cried and smiled at the same time, as she knew this was validation that she had made the right decision.
The month’s following Chuck’s death was extremely difficult for Ashely, and at times she even found it hard to want to live anymore. Chuck was her future and that was suddenly all taken away from her. Ashley decided to seek out grief support to deal with her loss, but this process became frustrating. She was only able to find one-on-one therapy, but after much searching she found she found a therapist who knew Sue Beeney, the Executive Director of New Hope. Ashley enrolled in a grief support group in 2008. Immediately she appreciated that the group provided her with a safe outlet to cry, get mad, and talk about her fears. She was reassured that all the feelings she was experiencing were a normal part of her grieving process. Ashley enjoyed sharing and hearing other people’s stories, it was helping to her to deal with the loss of Chuck and realize she was not alone in her grief. The kind and caring New Hope staff worked hard from the start to make everyone feel at ease.
Upon completing her group Ashley felt good, and was glad she made some new friends—but she wanted to do more. She wanted to use her own experience with death and grief to give back. At first, Ashely started volunteering with only grief camps, each camp she attended gave her with a little more healing and closure in dealing with her own loss. At camp Ashley demonstrated a real talent for working with young adults and teens that had lost loved ones. With New Hope expanding, she was the perfect volunteer to help us launch our young adult support groups.
Shortly after being trained Ashley facilitated her first young adult group. During the group Ashely was often unsure if she was helping these young adults. The group all admitted how scared they were of coming to the group and how lucky they were to have Ashely leading their group. They all enjoyed how much she had inspired them to move forward in life; needless to say the last day of group was a very tearful goodbye.
Ashely greatly treasures her work at New Hope and loves being a facilitator and helping others. Ashley is now 31 years old and works as a full-time hairdresser in the city of Irvine. She also works at a daycare center for dogs and is a huge animal lover. Her boxer, Abbie, was a big part of her getting through her grief. She has been volunteering and helping countless others get through their journey of grief, for that she knows Chuck is extremely proud of her. Ashley shared “New Hope saved my life” and she looks forward to helping New Hope continue its mission of Hope and Healing!
Steve Dorrell is the father of his beautiful daughter Kelly. Steve spent most of his adult life as a single parent, as he divorced Kelly’s mom long ago. Steve knew from the start Kelly had a real zest for life and brought joy to everyone around her. Kelly also had a stepfather; Steve credits him and his family for being so instrumental in Kelly turning out so well. Steve thought that Kelly was very blessed to have two dads who cared about her so much.
Without notice, everything changed for both families on December 5th, 2011 when Kelly tragically lost her life. She and her boyfriend had been enjoying themselves on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. While posing for a photo on the Queen Mary rails Kelly suddenly fell over the railing and plunged 75 feet to her death. Her boyfriend and a Queen Mary employee jumped in the water and tried to save her, but her injuries were too severe. Even though the press sensationalized the whole story, it was a freak accident. For Steve this did not make the pain of losing Kelly any less, he now suddenly found himself without his daughter. He did not think he would ever be the same again. After all, our children aren’t supposed to die before their parents.
Kelly had a passion and a love for children. While in high school, she got a job tutoring kids. Later in college, she took a satisfying job at a local children’s daycare. Just prior to Kelly’s death, she had received her teaching credentials at Cal State University Long Beach, while she was working as a nurse’s aide at Long Beach Memorial- Millers Children Hospital—she was very ambitious. Kelly had many friendships she developed over the years when she attended Cal State University Long Beach and U.C. Santa Barbara—several hundred people attended her funeral. A fellow student from her high school offered to play at her funeral. Her mother Rhonda requested the song If I Die Young by The Band Perry. That song is a poignant reminder every time he hears it.
After Kelly’s funeral Steve’s family rallied around him to provide support, but it wasn’t enough, he was so very numb. Many tried, but no one could really understand his loss. Steve decided to try a grief support program at Hoag Hospital and at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, but he still found himself not getting the grief support he needed. After failed attempts at support, Kelly’s stepdad’s family gave him the phone number for New Hope. Several others also recommend New Hope, but Steve wasn’t quite ready. It took six months before Steve was finally ready and he reached out to New Hope.
Steve enrolled in a New Hope grief support group in 2012. He remembers fondly the many special people he met in his group. Everyone brought pictures of their loved ones to the group meeting and shared the loss of their loved one. This provided Steve with an immediate opportunity to tell people how truly special his daughter Kelly was. Steve was finally getting a chance to let all of his feelings out. Feelings like how losing a daughter changes your life profoundly in ways you could never foresee. He shared how things that seemed so important before Kelly died, suddenly didn’t seem quite as important. In group Steve was reassured by his peers and facilitators that all these things were normal. He appreciated that people were allowed to grieve at their own pace, which is one of the keys to grief recovery.
As Steve continued his grief group, he found himself feeling better and better with each passing day. He shared that he didn’t enjoy the idea of being in group with other grieving people, but he actually did. Being in community eases the pain when you share your story with others, this is what the grief groups are all about. In group, Steve found just saying Kelly’s name was becoming easier. The groups allowed him to gain perspective on what is important in life and provided a safe and structured environment to deal with his grief.
Steve has many special memories of Kelly, like going to the Long Beach Playhouse together and going to concerts in the park with family and friends. When Kelly was 16, they were invited to join his friends to a play at the Long Beach Playhouse. Afterwards, they found that they both loved theatre; they got season tickets and continued going to plays together for the next ten years. The time they spent together meant the world to Steve. In grief group, Steve had the opportunity to make a memorial plate in Kelly’s memory. He made his plate in tribute to this special time with Kelly. He put the happy and sad faces that are on the outside of the Long Beach Playhouse on his plate. This was his way of saying that he was sad that Kelly was gone, but happy he had her in his life for as long as he did.
New Hope helped Steve to focus on Kelly’s life and how special she was to the people around her. Because of this, her uplifting spirit will live on in Steve’s heart forever. Steve shared with us that “New Hope provided me with a new beginning and helped to show me that everything was going to be okay after losing Kelly—and it has been.”
Penny Munoz grew up in East Los Angeles with her older brother and sister; she was the baby of the family. Her parents divorced when she was only five years old, so things were tough for Penny early on. Despite the hardships, Penny’s grandma, who she loved and adored lived right next door—this made life a bit easier. Penny has many passions, which include singing, traveling, but she loves to volunteer, especially when kids are involved. Penny Munoz has been involved with New Hope since 2006, both as a group participant and volunteer group facilitator. Penny has dealt with more than her share of grief; she’s lost six of her loved ones, including her nephew and her mother, Esther, who died in 2010.
Esther was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, and had to go through the painstaking process of having her liver drained weekly. Penny knew that her mom was strong willed and could bounce back, even the doctors were saying she could live for up to another year. All this changed abruptly when the doctors discovered her health had taken a turn for the worse and Esther only had another 2 weeks to live. Penny’s life was suddenly turned upside down, and she found herself dealing with anticipated grief as to what was going to happen next, and how she was going to deal with it. She had gone through this before in 1998 when her grandmother died, grief-stricken, she was unable to talk about her grandma for the next 8 years without crying.
Now with a similar situation on the horizon with her mom, Penny had an idea of what lie ahead and the difficulties she would face. When Penny would visit her mom she revealed no signs of weakness, but inside she was grieving, knowing her mom was dying. Even though Esther asked, Penny could not tell her mother she was dying. While on hospice, Esther was able to spend her last days at home until she passed away. When Esther left this world, she was surrounded by many people who loved and cared about her. They all sang worship songs, ushering Esther peacefully into her death.
Esther’s death was extremely difficult for Penny; she was not certain how she could deal with life now without her mother. Penny was scared, but found peace in her faith in God—she felt him telling her not to underestimate his strength to get through what was ahead. During Penny’s journey of grief she decided to become a chaplain; she was determined to use her own personal experiences with loss to help others manage their lives after losing a loved one. While studying the chaplaincy program at Long Beach Memorial Hospital she learned the importance of listening. She discovered that people need to be heard when they are dealing with loss in order to move forward. She knew from past experience how important sharing your stories of loss was to the grieving process.
Penny’s involvement with New Hope in the past taught her that grieving people often wait until they have suffered immensely before seeking out grief support. Often people find that they are afraid to talk to others about their own loss, and their recovery process is either slowed down or never happens. Taking this advice, Penny enrolled in an eight-week grief group at New Hope to deal with her grief caused by her mother’s death. In group, Penny shared she felt safe, supported, and learned valuable information about her grief from her group facilitator. New Hope’s Executive Director, Susan Beeney, taught her that it is extremely important to remember those who you have lost. This advice helped her get through many holidays, like Mother’s Day—Penny refers to Sue as her hero! Most importantly, Penny learned you have to allow yourself to experience the emotions that come with grief, it is vital to the recovery process.
The memories Penny has of her and mother will always be in heart. They both had a love for animals and always wanted to go on an African safari. In 2006, Penny and her mom were able to fulfill their dream of going on an African safari. Memories like the trip to Africa were just many that Penny had with her mom, and New Hope taught her how important these memories were, as they allow Esther’s presence to live on in her life forever.
New Hope has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to use my own loss to help others through my writing. This month I am going to share my own story of how the loss of my mother, Ruth Leary, in 2007 and the ABC television program “Secret Millionaire” led me to the doors of New Hope Grief Support Community in 2012 and helped to change my immediate life.
Before I continue, I would like to tell you a little about myself. I have two sisters, Kerry and Katie, and grew up in the city of Orange. I currently live in Long Beach just blocks from the beach and I love to write. As you will soon see, Long Beach will play a major role in how I ended up at New Hope.
I lost my mother in 2007 and it was extremely hard as her and I we’re extremely close. I saw her every day when I was living in Cypress, where I lived before I moved to Long Beach in 2008. She was not only my mother, but also my best friend. Her death was quite unexpected, and she was still quite young, only 75 years old when she died. When she was first diagnosed with bladder cancer, the doctors were still very hopeful that she would pull through. But within days we went from planning her recovery to planning her funeral. She actually ended up going into septic shock and we had to make the decision of taking her off life support. The loss was made even worse by the fact that I had just lost my dad in 2003, so in just four short years I suddenly found myself without both my parents.
After my mom passed away, I discovered that many of my friends had also suffered the loss of both parents, some in even a shorter span that I did. I suddenly found myself trying to use my loss to help others get through their loss and move forward. This gave me an idea that helping others in grief support might be my calling. Now it was just a matter of finding the opportunities. And the opportunities would soon be coming my way.
Since “Secret Millionaire” played a major part in my finding out about New Hope, I would like to share a little of that story. When I tuned into the show in July of 2012, Hilary DeCesare, the Founder of Everloop was the featured millionaire. I looked forward to her being in my home city of Long Beach looking for deserving non-profits. As Hilary visited New Hope and talked to its Executive Director, Sue Beeney, I just knew that this was an organization that I had to be involved with—it was right in my own backyard! As I saw the recovery process in action with the Alonso family on the episode and how New Hope helped them get through the loss of their son, Christian, I was reduced to tears. I could not find good grief support when I lost my parents, and to not just know of the existence of this very special organization, but also to see such a focus on recovery and moving forward, I knew I had to get in touch with them as soon as possible
Within days after the show had aired, I found myself meeting the very special people that make up New Hope. When I met Sue she was exactly how I saw her on “Secret Millionaire” such a passionate and caring person whose mission is to provide grief support for the masses at no cost. I shared with Sue how excited I was that New Hope was the big winner on “Secret Millionaire” and that my own personal experience with not finding good grief support made me very aware of just how important their organization was. I wanted to take all the pain that was associated with the loss of my mom and put it towards something positive and I knew then that New Hope would give me that chance.
Initially, I started out by volunteering at several of their fundraising events in the city. Just doing this and being able to volunteer my time to an organization that was so close to my heart was a blessing. Sue knew I was a writer, and she saw a greater calling for me with New Hope. When she offered me the opportunity to write stories for New Hope’s e-newsletter, The Collage, I jumped at the chance. I started writing the e-newsletter last year, and it has been such a wonderful experience for me. I know my mother would be proud and that her joy for life lives through me in my writing.
It has been such a heartwarming experience for me to not just talk with people that have lost, but then to share their experiences with others. Because I too have lost, I feel that this acts as a bond and a very personal connection between me and those who I write the stories about rather than a sad reminder of my own loss. My very special work at New Hope has helped me to get through what is traditionally a very hard month for me, as March was the month that my mom and dad passed away.
I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank all those that have shared their stories with me, because this is the essence of what makes New Hope and The Collage so special. I am so proud of all who have opened up not just with me, but in their own personal experiences with New Hope. Recovery is that much easier when you are doing it with others who have also lost. A common thing I have also found in my stories is how many people want to celebrate the life of their loved one and not the loss.
I feel very special that my mom was such an important part of my life, and none of that goes away with her passing. She lives on in my writing for this very special organization called New Hope Grief Support Community.
From the moment you get there, you feel like you’re with family, this is how Kailee Castlen would best describe her experience at New Hope Kid’s Grief Camp in 2003, after the loss of her Uncle Lucas. Kailee was one of the first children to attend the very first New Hope Kid’s Grief Camp.
Kailee lost her Uncle Lucas when she was only 6 years old; she was very young to lose someone she had grown extremely close to. Uncle Lucas was only 21 years old when he died. Whenever Uncle Lucas would visit Kailee at her grandparent’s house, he would always have a secret stash of candy—he would always let her have one Reese’s Pieces to enjoy. She remembers the day he died like it was yesterday. Her Dad had picked her up from school and they headed over to their grandparents house where Uncle Lucas lived. She saw that everyone was crying, so she knew that something was wrong. She vividly remembers being told that Uncle Lucas was not going to be around anymore and that he was up in heaven now.
Even though Kailee had only known Uncle Lucas for 6 years she saw him as one of her very best friends. They would spend time together going to the mall in his Jeep and she would have lots of fun with him. Suddenly not having him around anymore was very, very hard on Kailee. As time passed Kailee and her parents decided to seek out grief support to help her through her loss. They found out about New Hope through a friend at Kailee’s school. New Hope was preparing to host the very first New Hope Kids Grief Camp; Kailee’s parents decided that she was going to attend. The first camp was being held at the Mustard Seed Ranch in Warner Springs, California. This was where New Hope held its kid’s camps for the first three years before moving the camp to North Long Beach, and currently near Idyllwild for their family camps.
At Camp Kailee received peer-to-peer group support and one-on-one sessions with grief counselors to help them deal with their loss. Kailee remembers making many friends at camp, like Taylor, they are still good friends. She says “that these are lifelong friendships and that none of this would have been possible without New Hope Grief Support Community”. Kailee highly recommends the camp to kids who have lost a loved one. Kailee shared that a lot of times people expect you to behave in a certain way when a loved one dies. She didn’t find that with New Hope, with their caring and knowledgeable staff she felt very comfortable in talking about her grief and will always be thankful for that.
One fond memory from camp Kailee shared was an activity that included using a cologne bottle that was her Uncle Lucas’s. The kids were asked to bring something to camp that they could break and use for an art project. The kids took the broken pieces of what they smashed and glued them along with photos of their loved one to a memory block. For Kailee this would serve not just as a permanent memory of Uncle Lucas, but also of the good times she experienced at New Hope Kid’s Grief Camp
Kailee was only 6 when she attended camp, but now she is 17 and a junior at Lakewood High School. Her mom, Angela, and her Dad, Joshua, are extremely proud of her, as she is not only a distinguished merits scholar, but also on the advanced dance team at Lakewood High. Kailee still feels very special to this day that she participated in the very first New Hope Kid’s Grief Camp. What she learned and experienced at camp helped her to move forward and become the young woman she is today. Kailee’s sentiments have been echoed by many since 2003, as New Hope camps continue to help kids get through along their grief journey.
One of the best things I have ever done for myself and my children was getting involved with New Hope Grief Support Community, shared Marci Pecora. Strong words, but this was one of the major things that helped her family get through the loss of her husband, Fede, in 2012.
Marci grew up in Lakewood, and in 1997 moved to Hawaii with a group of friends. It was there where she met Fede, whom she married. Fede was originally from Argentina and Marci smiles as she shares fond memories of how she was able to travel around his homeland him. Her and Fede had two beautiful children together, a daughter, Lucia, who is now 9 and a son, Mateo, who is now 6. The times spent together as a family were wonderful. This would all change soon, as Fede’s health suddenly took a turn for the worse. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and Marci remembers that day like it was just yesterday. After the diagnosis, it became difficult for Fede as his condition worsened. Their family was forced to move away from their life in Hawaii and come out to the West Coast for his treatment.
Living day-to-day for Fede became more and more challenging and the illness was overwhelming the family. As Marci says, how could it not? She had to stop working for several years to take care of Fede until he passed in 2012. Marci suddenly was dealing not just with the loss of her husband, but also the loss of her children’s father. She was struggling and was quickly losing hope, but little did Marci know that hope would soon be coming her way.
Sue Beeney, the Executive Director of New Hope, was a family friend of Marci and she knew how important it was to talk to Lucia and Mateo, especially with Fede’s service only 2 weeks away. Sue knew that they were both too young to understand death and the cremation process. Sue provided Lucia and Mateo with our New Hope Mrs. Beans program explaining death, dying, and cremation so they would better understand what happened to their dad. Sue brought props like our Soul Bear and Happy Hats to make the kids feel more at ease. Sue in her soft and caring ways brought comfort to the kids and Marci in their time of loss and beyond.
As to be expected, the loss of Fede would cause a major upheaval in Marci and her kid’s lives. Less than 2 months after Fede had died Marci and the kids attended a New Hope Family Grief Camp. This opportunity allowed Marci to focus on her own grief, and gave them time to grieve as a family. Camp provided a positive outlet for her and the kids, but Marci wanted more grief support.
Shortly after camp, Marci began attending an eight-week adult grief support group at New Hope. Marci received what she needed in her group to move forward in life. She will always be grateful to Sue and the caring staff and volunteers at New Hope for giving her family the chance to be involved. It really changed the last 2 years of her life, as it provided her with an opportunity to become educated about grief and to support her children as they grieved.
Finally, Marci found that grieving people without proper grief support lose interest in life because of their loss. Marci chose not to give up because of the positive help, spirit, and support she received at New Hope. This is one of the reasons that she chose to get a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling at Azusa Pacific University to help others. Sue was instrumental in helping Marci get into the master’s program, as New Hope has a vested interest in everyone who comes through their doors in helping them move forward with their lives.
Marci is yet another shining example of how New Hope continues to make a difference in the lives of grieving families. She knows how much New Hope helped her family get through their grief, and because of this, she returned to New Hope as a volunteer in 2013. She helped lead a children’s group, putting her education and her positive New Hope experience to help make a difference in the lives of others. She encourages others to be a part of New Hope, and to remind them they are not alone.
Listening ears and a safe place to talk about her loss—this is what Elaine Vindedahl found when she came to New Hope after her loss.
Elaine lost her daughter Krystal thirteen years ago and although much time has passed, the loss is still fresh. The loss was also very sudden as Krystal drowned off of Balboa Island on December 8, 2000, tragically ending a long struggle with life. The things Elaine learned at New Hope take on a special importance now, because Krystal’s thirty-sixth birthday would have been this January.
Growing up in the Texas Panhandle, with seven brothers and two sisters, Elaine came to California when she was eighteen. She and her then husband had two daughters, Liza and Krystal, but they later divorced. She now runs a successful tax business with her current husband, John. She feels John was heaven sent; he has been a rock in helping her get through the loss of Krystal.
Elaine had to deal with a lot of things when Krystal died, which was why finding grief support through New Hope was so important. Krystal was missing for three days prior to her death. Elaine still remembers that time like it was yesterday, going to her son-in-law’s house, seeing a policeman outside and realizing something was terribly wrong.
Elaine found it hard to move on after losing Krystal and found no one to validate her loss. She knew she would have to find grief support as soon as possible and this was when New Hope and Elaine would cross paths. Her local pastor was aware of New Hope’s work and he provided her with information about the organization.
When Elaine met New Hope’s Executive Director, Sue Beeney, she knew she was in the right place. Sue made things much easier, with her listening ears and empathy. Never judging, she listened to every single word of her story. New Hope was a safe place, where she saw others struggling just like her to go through the grief process, and where recovery could be sought together.
During her time at New Hope, Elaine learned the stages of grief and how to get through them. At the same time, she was also given the tools to move forward. New Hope staff was also able to help her grandson, who joined their grief support group for children. Elaine discovered that it was okay to ask for help, which would not have been possible without the kind and caring staff of New Hope.
New Hope taught Elaine how to reach out more to others during trying times, which she has ‘paid forward’ to her tax clients experiencing similar difficulties, often referring them on to the organization. New Hope helped her to recognize when others might be grieving and in need of extra support, which was so important to her during her own grief and recovery process.
New Hope helped Elaine to focus on how Krystal lived her life and not how she died. She remembers how much fun Krystal and her sons would have shopping together or her at her surprise wedding shower. She even remembers when Krystal and Liza were two and five, respectively, when they gave each other haircuts!
Elaine realizes grief is never really over, but New Hope has helped make her journey of grief a lot easier. In turn, Elaine is helping others, spreading the word of grief support, and New Hope, to those around her. In this light, Krystal’s spirit will continue to live on forever.
By Steve Leary, Volunteer Writer
Patrick Finds His New Normal
On June 25, 2011 my life was changed forever. My family was traveling North on the Ventura 101 Freeway. While traveling at high speeds we crashed into a tree. In that accident I lost my Dad Phet, my Mom, Holly and my 11-year-old brother Eric. We also lost a close family friend. I was the only one to survive the accident; my only injury was a broken arm, but it was my emotional wounds that hurt me the most.
After being discharged from the hospital I was sent home to live with my older cousin’s family. On the car ride home from the hospital my cousin and aunt told me if I needed to talk to them about anything I could. Immediately after losing my family I didn’t feel anything, no sadness at all—I was numb. When I returned to school everyone knew my story. My brother’s school held a tree planting ceremony in memory of my family.
At an attempt to find support after the accident I started seeing a therapist and my cousin took me to the youth group at his church. I was reluctant at first to attend, but I began to enjoy myself and find some peace. My faith has played a huge role in my healing process.
On my school campus New Hope hosted a grief support group for grieving teens. At the first meeting I met peers I didn’t even know. During the first couple of meetings I felt distant; I wouldn’t even cry and if I did it was rare. As time went on, I learned some of the other students in the group had also lost more than one family member. A few weeks into the group I began to feel comfortable and was able to share and express myself, we all became connected. Our volunteer group leaders were knowledgeable and caring; they reassured us that it was o.k. to grieve and that we would live life again. I made many new friends from the group and some of us now attend Wilson High School together.
Today I’m a freshman in high school striving for those A’s. I find joy in playing video games, my guitar, and riding my bike around the neighborhood. New Hope was my catalyst to becoming a new person, and discovering my new normal after losing my family. Thank you to everyone at New Hope for picking me up and caring for me in my time of need and beyond.
“Kevin’s Camp Experience”
By Steve Leary
New Hope was there when my kids and I needed support the most, and I feel blessed because of it”. This is something we hear often, and something Kevin Opyrchal feels extremely strong about. Kevin had the opportunity to attend our New Hope Family Grief Camp in March this year with his two kids, Rachel and Robbie. Camp allowed them to honor their mom and his wife, Tammy, and to deal with all the feelings they were experiencing as a family.
Kevin was married to Tammy for 11 years, with both of them being Southern California natives. Although Kevin was separated from Tammy when she died in 2011, he still has many happy memories of their time together. He still laughs when he remembers things like how her dad had a very strong resemblance to Willie Nelson. Tammy was also very well known for her enthusiasm and zest for life. Her death was quite sudden and they never did find out exactly what the cause was. This in itself made things harder, as there was no real closure for the family. Kevin was now faced with being a single father and having to raise his kids without Tammy.
The hardest part for Kevin was telling Robbie and Rachel that their mom had died. This was followed by very intensive grief, as they then had to go through their mom’s things. Kevin was dealing not just with his own grief, but also the grief of his children, this was very difficult.
It took Kevin some time to find out about New Hope, but he did thanks to a caring principal at his kid’s school, Price Elementary. He had not found any solid source of grief support up to that point, so finding New Hope with an emphasis on grief support was so important. With Tammy’s death still fresh on his family’s mind, Kevin and his two kids attended New Hope’s Family Grief Camp in spring 2013. Being at camp made all the difference in the world for Kevin and the kids, much good came from the moment they first set foot in camp. One thing he found extremely beneficial was how the camp paired up people who had suffered similar loss, like the loss of a spouse or mom. Kevin found that a lot of people were in even more challenging situations than he was as a single father. In this light, he felt much gratitude that although he was going through so many emotions now, others he met at camp we’re in more challenging situations.
One of the things that really helped Kevin at camp in his recovery process was creating a family tree with his kids. This was extremely important to him, as the tree included Tammy. She was still part of their family and her passing didn’t change that. At first, Kevin found it very difficult to go through the grieving process. New Hope’s caring staff and volunteers at camp helped him realize that he was now dealing with finding his “new normal” in life. The goal was to show him how to best move forward with his life, while at the same time to never forget Tammy. Kevin also found comfort in knowing that others at camp were also journeying towards their “new normal” and this made the camp even more special for him.
Kevin was not only able to see his own progress at camp, but the progress of his kids as well. As a father, this was all part of his own recovery progress. One of the most important things that his daughter Rachel learned was that she was not alone and her mom’s death was not her fault. This is why family camp is so important, as it allows the families to go through the grieving process together. It gave Rachel an opportunity to learn things about her own grief journey she would not have learned otherwise. Kevin and his kids learned together not just how to handle their grief, but to heal together as a family.
Kevin and his two kids have many special memories of Tammy, but there was one that really stood out. One birthday when grandma was visiting, Tammy playfully shot a toy dart at grandma and hit her smack on the head. They all still laugh about it to this day, and New Hope helped them realize that happy memories like this will always be there in their hearts. They are all still continuing to heal; but that process has been made much easier thanks to the powerful experience they had a Family Camp.
By Steve Leary
Riley Thompson was only 5 years old when she lost her dad, Christopher Shane Thompson; he passed away tragically in 2005. His death was very sudden and unexpected. Being so young Riley struggled to understand what happened to her dad, and that she would never see him again. Losing her dad caused so much pain, so it was extremely important that she received proper grief support. One year after her dad’s death, New Hope was able to provide Riley with the support she needed at our 2006 Kids Camp.
At New Hope Kids Camp Riley made many new friends her age that were dealing with some of the same emotions she was. Camp taught her many so much about her grief and gave her the tools to deal with it in healthy way. Riley appreciated how New Hope showed her how to focus on the many fun memories she has with her dad. She remembers special times with her dad like family film night, and going to the park. Riley found comfort in being with other kids who had also suffered a similar loss; it really helped her to express how she felt. More importantly Riley realized she was not alone.
Riley’s camp experience gave her hope to move forward, and to find her new normal. As part of her new normal Riley came back to camp a few years later to be a volunteer. She was extremely excited about volunteering for New Hope and being able to help other grieving kids, just as New Hope had done for her. She took the valuable lessons that she learned at camp, and helped the kids feel comfortable in the group. Her time spent volunteering reminded her that she was not the only young person to experience the loss of a parent. In that she found peace, and again realized she was not alone in her grief. Riley shared that she knows her dad would be so proud of her using all she learned at New Hope camp to help other kids with the same pain move forward with their lives.
The pain that came with the death of Riley’s dad still visits her, but she finds happiness in the great times she had with her dad. New Hope Camp helped her to realize that she is not alone in her grief, and that giving back to others brings hope and healing to the soul.
Noelle Brown’s Story
Grief is an inevitable visitor in all of our lives, and no one knows this better than Noelle Brown. In 2007, Noelle Brown lost her father, Byron, after a battle with cancer. Prior to her father’s death, Noelle lost her two brothers, as well as her father-in-law. Even though six years have gone by since Byron’s passing, the loss is still very fresh. Fortunately for Noelle, New Hope helped her get through this most difficult time in her life.
Special times and special memories, those are the things Noelle remembers most about her dad. She remembers how her father was a very giving man with their family and was always eager to provide for them. She remembers how he loved Christmas and was known around the house as “Mr. Christmas.” Noelle shared how her dad tended to be a bit clumsy at times, and that everywhere he went there was a story. There was an incident where her dad even accidently set a dog on fire trying to get a tick off the dog. The dog was ok, but he learned that a lit match and rubbing alcohol were not a good combination. Despite her dad’s clumsiness, Noelle assures us that her dad never managed to hurt himself, but there was always a story to be told. Its memories like these that will always be in Noelle’s heart, and helped her to get through her loss.
Losing her dad left a huge hole in her heart that she knew she would need to deal with. As time passed she hoped the hole would disappear, but the hole only grew bigger, and she was just not ready to seek out support. In addition, Noelle also felt the pain of her kids, who never got to have a grandfather. It was not until four years later that Noelle contacted New Hope, hoping to find a way to get through her grief and pain. Noelle registered and attended a grief support group at New Hope. Noelle found that just being in the group and having the opportunity to share with others was exactly what she needed. When Noelle originally sought out New Hope it was to be a volunteer, not to attend a group. She is glad she joined the support group.
Noelle knows that her time at New Hope was special, as it allowed her to be in a group setting and share with others who were going through many of the same emotions as her. It helped her not only to deal with her own grief, but also to help comfort others. Noelle shared that it is often hard to talk to your family and fully express what you are going through. She felt it was much easier to talk to strangers to help gain a little more perspective about her grief. We all experience grief at some point in our lives and New Hope helped make my own personal journey of grief a little easier. I am forever thankful for the work they do, and how they helped me to find hope and healing after my losses.
Sadie, New Hope’s Pet Therapy Partner Brings Hope to Families
By Steve Leary
You are probably wondering what our four-legged friends could have to do with New Hope Grief Support Community. Well, after reading this story, you will know exactly why. This month, we will be looking at the canine aspect of grief support, more specifically pet therapy and why it is so important.
Sue Woolheather is a New Hope volunteer who retired from the medical field three years ago and really wanted to find volunteer opportunities to make a difference. In her search to make a difference she became involved with pet therapy. Sue became involved with Long Beach’s own B.A.R.K. program, which encourages children to increase their reading skills by reading out loud to certified therapy dogs. This was Sue’s introduction into this unique specialized area of pet therapy. The B.A.R.K. program, which stands for Beach Animals Reading with Kids, was Sue’s main focus before volunteering with New Hope. To be involved with B.A.R.K. Sue’s special golden retriever, Sadie, had to be at least a year old, and pass a stringent set of requirements, she passed with flying colors.
Golden retrievers are known for their mellow personality. They especially love being around kids, and will let the kids pet them to their heart’s content. Sadie is now 7 years old, and Sue wanted to find other ways that she and Sadie could make a difference.
One day, while reading the Grunion Gazette, Sue read an article about New Hope. That led Sue and Sadie to an interview with Executive Director, Susan Beeney. When they all met one another for the first time, it was destiny for Sue and Sadie to provide a special service for New Hope at their family camps. Sue took Sadie to family camp last year for the first time, and the kids and the families loved having Sadie around. Kids enjoyed sharing their feelings with Sadie, and having her around to cuddle with. At family camp there are usually groups of 8-10 kids in a group, Sadie instinctively would walk from child to child. With the major emotional trauma that the kids are going through, they just melt when they got to spend time with Sadie. During group time kids would be doing activities, they would be writing with one hand and petting Sadie with the other. She really calms the kids down. When the kids are talking and petting Sadie, they are really helping themselves to work through feelings of grief. Sue believes that Sadie is good therapy for people of all ages. Therapy Dogs like Sadie help grieving people to take their minds off of their grief, and allows them to find peace, comfort, and friendship.
Pet therapy is extremely important in helping kids and adults deal with grief. Anything that can make the journey of grief a little easier is a gift. Sadie and Sue are now always a very special and unique part the New Hope family.
Cadet Miya Causey’s Story By Cadet Miya Causey
When I went to Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy, I had a lot of things going on in my life. I was a kid that always seemed to be getting into something, not to mention having the father that I did, it only made things worse. Sunburst was never a program I wanted to be in, but I faked my willingness and drive to be able to enter the program. I figured it was better than my home life. It took me a while, but by the time the Sunburst family visit day came around, I secretly loved being at Sunburst. I had gained a new found confidence, energetic drive, and a sense of happiness I thought I had lost.
Family visit day was supposed to be one of my best days at Sunburst, but it quickly became my worst. My cousin confided in me and told me that my great grandmother, Nana, had died; my family had hidden her death from me for nearly two months—I was crushed. I missed her funeral, the chance to tell her goodbye, and share with her the impact she had on me. Most importantly, I missed the chance to show my Nana how for the first time in my life I had succeeded at something. She would have been so proud of me. With my Nana now gone, I felt huge part of me missing, I felt ruined. I no longer walked with pride and confidence; I walked with grief over my dear Nana’s death. I was filled with hatred in my heart for my family for hiding her death from me. My drive was gone, even my personality felt somehow lost and the girl who hated and refused to cry around her peers couldn’t seem to hold back the tears.
A few weeks later, after I learned of my Nana’s death, a counselor at Sunburst told my Platoon that an eight-week grief support group would be offered by New Hope Grief Support Community; I signed up immediately. The first few sessions in my group I was silent. I couldn’t shake the numb feeling I had, and to be honest I didn’t want to feel all the emotions caused by my Nana’s death, it was just too much. After one session, I asked if I could stay after the group to talk to the three ladies leading the group. As soon as I began sharing with them I broke down crying, I couldn’t hold it in any more.
That day a little of the numbness seemed to go away, and each time we met it went away little by little. Every time I met with the people from New Hope I took another step forward. I began to stop hating my family for what they did; I even started replying to my mom’s letters. I forgave my family; slowly New Hope helped me walk through my grief. They showed me how to cope with not only my Nana’s death and the fact she was gone, but also how she left us. They taught me to focus on the amazing, huge-hearted, gracious woman my Nana was and to honor her memory. I now try to apply everything my Nana taught me it to my own life. Most of all, I learned how to keep her memory alive without feeling angry or depressed. I feel grateful and privileged I had someone like Nana in my life growing up. New Hope gave me the help and support I needed to lift up my head once again. They allowed me to be successful in Sunburst using the tools they gave me in my group. I applied them to my grief, but also to other areas of my life. I truly owe a huge thanks to New Hope and the ladies in my group for everything they did for me. Who knows, without them I might still be angry and grieving.
At the young age of eighteen I have made it farther in life than I thought I would have. I can honestly say I feel good about myself, with an actual anticipation of what life has to offer me, excited to experience life to the fullest with a smile and a New Hope!
New Hope is a proud partner with Sunburst, providing 60 cadets a year just like Miya, with an eight-week, on-site, grief support group. The Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy Program at Los Alamitos is a Community High School, run by the California National Guard in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education. The Academy is a 5 1/2 month long residential “military style” academy structured to promote an academic environment. The mission of Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy is to intervene in and reclaim the lives of sixteen to eighteen-year-old high school drop outs; to produce program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.
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.