For the past four years Carol Ford has been helping others deal with the grief that comes with losing a loved one. The Turlock resident volunteers her time to facilitate grief support and education groups at Hospice of Emanuel. Her dedication to helping those suffering with loss was recognized this month as she was named Hospice of Emanuel Volunteer of the Year.
"One of the most rewarding and beneficial things that you can do is help someone in one of their darkest hours, being a friend and giving them a hand to hold and walk them through," Ford said.
She began volunteering at hospice about five years after losing her own husband, and she brings her personal experience to her groups to help others.
"Having lost my own husband, walking with someone else with fresh pain, you relive your own again, but you find more healing," Ford said.
The healing is worth the pain, she said, and also seeing the results.
"When you see people who were married for 60 years and lost their spouse, it's devastating. I see these people, years later, and they are bubbling, happy and their life has moved on," Ford said.
Ford initially worked as a hospice family visitor, providing respite and emotional support for her hospice clients. For the past few years she's been a support group facilitator, helping others through grief education. The first group she facilitated was the Journey through Grief Support Group for those who had a general loss such as a mother, brother or friend.
"Over time, as the need for another loss-of-spouse support group developed, Carol eagerly agreed to lead this new group," said Sandy Ricardo, the support services coordinator at Emanuel. "Two and half years and five groups later, the Daytime Loss of Spouse Support Group continues to grow in popularity. Carol has a knack for helping others normalize their grief and teaches them to support one another through their difficult journey."
One of Ford's special skills is helping a group of grieving individuals bond as friends, Ricardo said.
"One of Carol's support groups began with several newly-widowed individuals who were hesitant to get out of their cars and come into the support group meeting," Ricardo said. "After a few weeks in the group, these individuals were not only participating in the group but came each week with a smile and a new sense of purpose."
Her groups often have lunch together several times during their group sessions, developing friendships through common struggles, Ricardo said. Some of these members have stayed in touch even after their group ended as a result of the lasting friendships they have developed.
Along with being a facilitator, Ford has always been willing to train other hospice volunteers to facilitate grief support groups.
"One of our favorite stories about Carol is how a hospice patient wanted to get married before he died so Carol worked with the hospice team to help make that possible," Ricardo said. "She's a pastor, so she performed the marriage ceremony herself, then after the patient died Carol continued to visit the wife."
Ford is the associate pastor at the Evergreen Christian Center in Winton.
Hospice of Emanuel provides care for people in the last phases of an incurable disease, helping them live as fully and comfortably as possible and leave this life with a sense of fulfillment and dignity. Clinical professionals and volunteers team with families throughout the entire process of death and provide support group and bereavement services following the death of a loved one.