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The Power of Empathy

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Pan and ElainePamela & Elaine’s Story

“I was crying three, four, five times a day.  I couldn’t unlock my front door.  I wasn’t eating… I knew I was going into a deep, dark hole and I needed help.” When Pamela Bown lost Wayne – the love of her life – to cancer, her whole world changed.

Wayne had been ill, and they knew he didn’t have a lot of time.  But they didn’t expect Wayne to die so soon.  As Pamela says, “We thought we were prepared, but there’s nothing that can prepare you for losing your partner.  It’s really hard.”

Well-meaning family and friends would tell Pamela that ‘time heals’ or ‘you’ll be okay’.  “That’s one of the most frustrating things you can say to somebody when the grief is so fresh,” says Pamela.  When a month had passed and Pamela was still struggling – “I honestly thought I was losing my sanity” – she knew she needed to reach out for help.

Through Acclaim Health’s Bereavement Support Services, Pamela was matched with a Bereavement Peer Support volunteer in Georgetown.  Bereavement Peer Support volunteers have experienced a significant death in their own lives and complete 30 hours of specialized training.

There was an instant connection when Pamela met her volunteer, Elaine Jones.  As Elaine says, “Our losses were different, but since we’d both lost someone so dear and so close to us, Pamela felt comfortable talking to me.”

They both agree that listening was key to Pamela’s healing.  “I would just sit down and not stop talking…I don’t think Elaine got a word in edge-wise,” says Pamela.  Elaine jumps in and quickly responds, “That’s okay, my goal was to listen to you.”

Because Elaine was someone totally unconnected to the rest of Pamela’s life, their bi-weekly meetings created a safe space where Pamela could focus on her own feelings and share them openly, without worrying about how the conversation might affect anyone else.

“We made good progress over a short period of time and then it just kept growing,” says Elaine.  “When I started to see her progressing each week it was more rewarding than you can imagine.”

Though they know that the process of grieving is not something that you ever finish, this experience has been life changing for both of them.

“I’ve learned the power of empathy,” says Elaine of her volunteer experience.  “Through the course and the support from my Acclaim Health Coordinator, I learned how to deal with my own emotions and then was able to help someone else.”

Pamela has found a way to re-build a new life for herself.

“I feel like I’ve been launched,” says Pamela.  “I’m doing well now – better than I ever imagined.  I’m never home, I’m always out doing things.  I’m more social than I was before…I’ve got new interests, new activities, and even some new friends.  I’m not afraid to talk about Wayne.  Instead of being sad, I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to spend that time with him.”

“I’m so proud of you,” says Elaine.

“I’m grateful for being able to move on happily”, says Pamela.  “I couldn’t have imagined this a year ago.  Thank you for helping me heal.”

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