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Niagara Hospice program to offer grief counseling and support

Grief and loss are things a lot of people have trouble talking about, says bereavement counselor Jennifer Peth.

"Many people would rather avoid the topic of death altogether," Peth said. "They find it too depressing or too frightening to even think about. But the reality is that death and grief and loss are natural parts of life. We all encounter them in our own lives, and in the lives of those around us."

Peth is leading a grief counseling and support program, offered by Niagara Hospice, the next several weeks at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown.

"Our discomfort and unwillingness to talk about grief can leave us unprepared to cope with loss," she said. "If we could be more open to talking about grief, to learn about the grief experience, and to understand death as a natural part of life, then we would be much better equipped to deal with loss when we, or someone we love, goes through it."

That's the aim of the program, "Lightening the Burden for Those in Grief," which will meet each Tuesday night through mid-May at the church, on Church Avenue. Sessions run from 6:30 to 8, usually in the church library.

Peth holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Cornell University and a master's in mental health counseling from the University at Buffalo. She works as a grief counselor at Niagara Hospice in Lockport, providing bereavement support to Hospice families and the Niagara County community.

"At Niagara Hospice," she said, "I specialize in providing community education on grief and loss, and am currently involved in the development of a countywide initiative to foster grief education within schools.

At the Lightening the Burden sessions, "we hope to educate people about grief, to give them an opportunity to share their stories and experiences with others, and to gain some helpful tools for coping with the intense experience of grief," Peth said.

"Grief's not an easy thing," she said. "It's a difficult and painful journey, but it's one that we all go through. With a bit of knowledge and a lot of support, we can all come out on the other side OK -- often even stronger and with a better perspective on life than we had before."

There is no charge for the sessions, but advance registration is requested. Call 745-7067 to register.

Sessions are open to everyone. It's part of First Presbyterian's mission to "be welcoming to, accepting of and friendly toward all persons."

This is the third time that Niagara Hospice has offered the sessions at the church, and past participants said they found the information and group support helpful.

Niagara Hospice also will co-sponsor, with Niagara University's department of social work, the Hospice Foundation of America's 17th annual "Living With Grief" teleconference from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Wednesday in Bisgrove Hall, Room 350-351, on the NU campus. This event is free and open to the general public.

The live webcast conference, "Cancer and End-of-Life Care," will be moderated by CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno. The teleconference will address care options related to cancer diagnoses, as well as loss and grief for patients, families and professional caregivers. The teleconference will also examine psychosocial aspects of cancer, pain management and ethical issues related to the disease.

Reservations are required. For more information or to make a reservation, call Clementine Laverman, social work department director, at 286-8520.

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