The Coastal Star

Health & Harmony: ‘You’re Never Alone’ offers friendly place to move past grief

Anne Marie Riviecco makes a point during the ‘You’re Never Alone’ discussion group. Rivieccio, 63, is the newest and youngest member of the group. Referring to her circle mates, she says: ‘They’ve all moved on and they’ve helped me to move on. We’ve become more of a socio-political-economic-whatever-hits-our-minds-that-day discussion group.’
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Paula Detwiller

   On a recent Saturday morning, 13 seniors sit in a circle inside a meeting room at Grand Villa Senior Living Community in Delray Beach. Designated group leader Nat Spector —who is 94 but looks about 10 years younger — rattles off his list of topics for discussion today: the George Zimmerman trial, the immigration bill, health care costs, new abortion laws in Texas and new phone service options at Verizon.
    Wait. Isn’t this supposed to be a bereavement support group? It feels more like the old PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
    A dark-haired woman to my right, Anne Marie Rivieccio, explains.
     “We’re a group of people who got together because we had a loss. But we don’t talk about our losses anymore and lament the past.”
    Rivieccio, 63, is the newest and youngest member of the group. Referring to her circle mates, she says: “They’ve all moved on and they’ve helped me to move on. We’ve become more of a socio-political-economic-whatever-hits-our-minds-that-day discussion group.”  
    Officially, the group is called “You’re Never Alone After Bereavement.” Sponsored by the nonprofit Senior Foundation, it is designed for people 50 and older who have lost a spouse or significant other. On this day, five men and eight women occupy the circle. Average age: about 82. New members are always welcome.
    “We know it [bereavement] is a very sad state because we’ve all been there,” Spector says.
    Longtime member Harriet Lipkin, 80, says if a new person needs to talk about their loss, members listen and try to give practical advice and support based on their own experiences.
    “We tell them, the first year you’re expecting them [the deceased partner] to come home. The second year is worse: You know they’re not coming home,” Lipkin says.
    But rather than dwell on losses, the group focuses on sharing information, thoughts, ideas and opinions. They are a lively bunch. And they all agree that discussing current issues and events gives them new things to think about, and a place to go each week to socialize with peers.
    “I want to tell you, I’m here two years,” says Jeanette Kramer, who is sitting to my left, “and I really feel that I gained something. Not only knowledge of current events, but…”
    Before she can finish, the gentleman sitting next to her pipes up.
    “You gained me!” says Ed Sandler.
    The room erupts in laughter. I learn that Ed and Jeanette, who met after joining the group, are now a couple. And it turns out that Nat Spector and Harriet Lipkin started seeing each other 10 years ago, shortly after meeting in the support group.
    Numerous studies have shown that social interaction can promote physical, emotional and cognitive health among senior citizens, a group at risk for isolation, loneliness and depression.
    That’s why J. Robert Gordon, former senior services coordinator with the Mental Health Association of West Palm Beach, launched the “Never Alone” group 15 years ago. He is delighted it’s still going strong.
    What makes it successful?
    “They communicate with each other,” he says. “They’re all in the throes of aging, with all of its problematic conditions. They talk about nutrition, they talk about politics, they talk about crypts and cremation — there’s nothing off limits here, nothing.”
    That includes topics that members wouldn’t discuss with their own families, Gordon says. As a result, a good deal of bonding occurs.
    Members go out to breakfast together after their meetings. Six of the women traveled to Europe together. Eighteen members took a Hawaiian cruise together a few years ago.
    “You become friends almost instantly,” says Rivieccio, the newcomer. “And you look forward to it. You really look forward to getting up and getting out.”
    “You’re Never Alone” meets every Saturday morning from 9 to 10:30 in Delray Beach. For more information, contact J. Robert Gordon at the Senior Foundation Corp. of Boca Raton, 361-9091.

Paula Detwiller is a freelance writer and lifelong fitness junkie. Find her at www.pdwrites.com.

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