A healing touch

When her father died suddenly of a heart attack in 2003, Lynn Bachleda felt that she and her mother would benefit from assistance during the grieving process. But like many people struggling to cope with the death of a loved one, they were unsure where to turn.

Their answer came in the form of a Nashville institution built specifically for those who are struggling with life-threatening illnesses or the loss of loved ones. Founded by Dr. David Barton and Dr. John Flexner, Alive Hospice has offered support to the Middle Tennessee area for over 35 years. From caregiving to counseling, they serve patients and family members who have a wide variety of physical and emotional needs.

According to Bachleda, her spirits were lifted when they attended a seminar called "Grief During the Holidays." She credits the educated, compassionate staff members for comforting her through a difficult time.

"They have so much experience and depth of knowledge at Alive Hospice," Bachleda says. "There are so many ways to help each other out. Counseling may not be for everybody. It's simply a part of giving yourself every advantage; it's a card in the deck that they can play. You should use all the tools that you might have available."

"People are looking for comfort and for something that will offer them relief," says Jon Baker, a grief counselor at Alive Hospice. "Each situation has its own unique demands. When people are left behind, they are kind of adrift. It's good to know there's a safe place where you can express emotions that you want to express."

Attendees don't have to adhere to a regimented structure, Baker says, but they receive basic suggestions that might lessen their daily suffering. For people like Bachleda, these building blocks can lead to encouraging breakthroughs.

"The first session gave me the first inkling that there were patterns to grieving," she says. "My reality is more present now. You learn to invent new rituals. I've learned that it's perfectly fine that on some days I'm not as productive as I wish I were."

In the last eight years, Bachleda has regularly used the Alive Hospice counseling services, most recently after the death of her mother in June. She faced a more complicated challenge in 2004 when her partner spent three months in Alive Hospice Residence Nashville before dying of cancer. The residential home, a 30-bed facility for hospice patients, is on Patterson Street near downtown Nashville.

Bachleda refers to Alive Hospice as a "completely GLBT-friendly" facility, easing any concerns she had about discrimination from staff members and fellow visitors.

"Especially for our community, it's a really important resource," she says. "Sometimes the normal avenues like churches might not available to our community, although there are some churches that are. For gay people, we often have to build, supplement or replace our blood families with something else."

With four locations in the Nashville area, Alive Hospice offers individual grief counseling year-round. They have also hosted grief support groups for gay men and lesbians. These groups, consisting of 6-12 people, allow for discussion of topics unique to the GLBT community.

"There are often disappointments along the way," Baker says. "With the passage of time, it gets better. But there are often upsetting feelings and some apprehension. There are a number of expectations (on a person), and it can be disconcerting. It's important to identify these grief issues. Our staff is trained to help people do that."

Bachleda encourages anyone dealing with grief to "sleep, eat well, and exercise" as part of a balanced action plan. And with each passing year, her perspective on death has changed.

"We're so afraid of death in our society," she says. "How can something so intrinsically a part of life as death? It's very hard, but it's a natural thing. At Alive Hospice, you learn how to deal with these emotions."

Find Alive Hospice on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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