The professionals and volunteers at Tidewell Hospice understand grief. Caring for individuals with advanced illness — and helping their families — is what they do, and they have been doing it for 38 years.

Tidewell cares for more than 8,000 patients every year on the Gulf coast, and you can double or triple that number when considering patients’ family and friends.

“Many people need help dealing with the emotions brought on by the loss of a loved one,” notes the Tidewell website, tidewellhospice.org. “Tidewell’s Grief Education and Support Center offers free bereavement services, whether or not the loved one was a Tidewell patient.”

Grief specialists are available in all Tidewell locations. They conduct a variety of group and one-on-one counseling activities. Some specialists work primarily with adults, while others specialize in meeting children’s bereavement needs.

One of those specialists, Ken Kinzie, LCSW, is presenting a special program, “Helping Friends & Family Cope with Grief & Loss,” this Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the Punta Gorda Library at 424 W. Henry St. The free event takes place from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Kinzie is Tidewell’s Vice President of Grief Education and Support Services. At the Wednesday event, he will help attendees recognize the signs and symptoms of grief, be able to differentiate between grief and complicated grief, understand the grieving process of friends and family, learn what to say and what not to say, and gain a better understanding of available resources.

Tidewell says those who are grieving may exhibit any of the following symptoms, which should alert friends and family that there is a problem.

Denial: Pretending or wishing the loss did not occur or acting as if they are unaffected.

Sadness: Crying constantly, at intervals, or not at all. Those experiencing grief may have varying degrees of fatigue, hyperactivity or withdrawal.

Fear: Frequently showing concern about death, particularly of their own loved ones, expressing concern about their welfare and future care giving, seeking contact and reassurance, clinging.

Anger: Toward others, self, God, and the one who died. This anger may be hidden or expressed through words or behaviors. There may be increased sibling squabbles.

Guilt and self-reproach: Asking the same questions repeatedly to gain reassurance and relief; secretly blaming themselves.

Health or sleep changes: Minor health complaints; change in appetite, bad dreams, changes in sleep patterns, fear of sleeping alone.

“Society sees the grieving process as an event, not a process,” says Tidewell. “In reality, grief is a comma, not a period.”

If grief is not dealt with it can increase and weaken the body, resulting in health problems. There are no hard and fast rules to handling grief. Often, it is most helpful to follow what feels healing to you and what connects you to the people and things you love.

“What’s Your Grief,” a website co-authored by Baltimore-based mental health professionals with more than 20 years of experience in grief and bereavement, suggests the following way to support a grieving loved one:

Send something. In addition to flowers, the website suggests home cooked meals, food and home staples, thoughtful cards and letters, or a box of self-care items

Be there physically and/or emotionally. Check in on a regular basis via text message or phone, offering sincere and simple words of support and encouragement

Help them take a break with laughter, sharing positive memories of their loved one, taking them out for a meal a movie or another recreational activity, accompanying them to parties or other social gatherings

Be willing to “go there” with them and sit in silence through the tears, anger, and outbursts.

Don’t forget. “Your loved one doesn’t just need your support in the immediate aftermath of loss, but also in the years to come, says whatsyourgrief.com. “Days like anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, weddings, and graduations may forever land somewhere on the spectrum of sad to bittersweet.”

For more information on the Punta Gorda Library event, contact Tidewell Community Relations Representative Valerie Hosfeld at 941-979-4300

Serving more than 1,100 patients daily in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties, Tidewell is one of the largest not-for-profit hospices in the United States. It has offices in Port Charlotte, Englewood, Venice and Sarasota. See tidewellhospice.org for more.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome. Call Dan Mearns at 941-893-9692 or email danmearns@gmail.com.

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