How we cope with the loss of a loved one is an individual process. No two people grieve alike, but having a compassionate person to talk to can make all the difference in the world. The Town of New Paltz has begun offering a new resource for local residents who would like help dealing with their feelings over a loss. Free grief counseling is now available from community volunteers that include a licensed mental health counselor, members of the clergy and the director of the town youth program.
“The number of tragic deaths by suicide and overdose that the community of New Paltz has experienced in the past couple of years has been heartbreaking,” says Phoenix Kawamoto, community education coordinator for the town Office of Community Wellness. “And on both a personal and professional level, I know that grief support is very important. In our culture, the expectation is that we return to our lives very quickly after a loss, but many feel the internal pressure to ‘move on’ before they’re ready, and friends and colleagues who care have to return to the demands of their own busy lives.”
Deaths that occur during the holidays can be particularly difficult for those grieving, she adds. “And grief doesn’t ‘cooperate’ with a preferred time schedule, if you know what I mean. Some may have a delayed response. There are anniversaries and all of the ‘firsts’ to be experienced after someone’s passing. And if these individuals died under traumatic and sudden circumstances, that adds another, often powerful, emotion to the grief, making it complex and compounded.”
In her position as town community education coordinator, Kawamoto says, “I have the privilege of working with incredibly compassionate professionals here in New Paltz. And when I reached out to them regarding my concern for those who may be struggling with grief, they did not hesitate to offer their time and skills. I’m also grateful for the support of the leadership here in the town. I hope that as people learn about this support, they will reach out. New Paltz is a generous community with many people waiting to help.”
One of those people is Linda Guglielmo, LMHC, supervisor at the New Paltz outpatient clinic location of Astor Services for Children & Families. She is donating her time to meet with individuals seeking grief counseling at the New Paltz Community Center on Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m. on either a drop-in or appointment basis. “Grief is a major stressor that we all experience at some point,” she says. “And the commonality of the experience is where the support is found. I’m not immune to loss either, so having had those experiences myself helps me to better support those who are going through it.”
Guglielmo says she’d like to see mental health services de-stigmatized in general. “There’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. I would encourage anybody who is struggling and doesn’t feel like they have the support they wish they did in their lives to talk to somebody, whether it’s a therapist, a clergy member or their doctor.”
Doctors can help people grieving who may develop symptoms that get in the way of their day-to-day routines, keeping them from functioning at the level they’d like to be at, she notes. “And if there’s a loss in the family — if, for example, you lose a parent and so your child loses a grandparent — it’s harder as a person who is also suffering the loss to be there for somebody else who is going through the same thing you are. Look out for that in your kids, if they’ve suffered a loss; encourage them to seek support wherever they feel most supported.”
Guglielmo has also put together a list of mental health resources to offer those in the community seeking help regarding challenges other than grief. Guglielmo may be reached at Astor Services, (845) 419-0850.
Jim Tinger, director of the New Paltz Youth Program, is available to counsel every day at the Youth Center on Main Street from 2-7 p.m. Drop-ins are welcome, or call him at (845) 325-2593.
Pastor Tobias Anderson of Redeemer Lutheran Church is ready to offer grief counseling by appointment at (845) 255-0051, as are pastors Mark Mast at Reformed Church of New Paltz at (845) 255-6340 and Bette J. Sohms of New Paltz United Methodist at (518) 231-1396.
Fr. Ernie Bedard and Fr. Salvatore Cordaro at St. Joseph Church are available by appointment by calling (845) 255-5635. Contact Br. Tim Jones at St. Joseph Church at (845) 642-1025.
More information is available at http://www.townofnewpaltz.org/home/news/free-community-grief-support-available.