LONGMEADOW — As people transition through their elder years, they may experience loss in a variety of individual ways. At Glenmeadow, an accredited, nonprofit life-plan community in Longmeadow, staff engaging with residents discovered that residents had been feeling especially affected by loss, including the loss of a spouse, social connectivity, physical mobility, and the general way of life they’d become accustomed to. Notably, the isolation, anxiety, and loss of independence brought on by COVID-19 elevated these feelings.
To help Glenmeadow residents work through their feelings, clinicians from MHA’s BestLife Emotional Health and Wellness Center have introduced a new, weekly support group called Coping with Loss. The program, funded with donations made in memory of Michael “Scott” McGovern, offers interested Glenmeadow residents the opportunity to talk about loss on location, in a facilitated group discussion led by a BestLife counselor.
“Glenmeadow wants to provide their residents with a supportive environment where folks can talk about feelings of loss and ways they can start to feel better,” said Kimberley Lee, vide president, Resource Development & Branding for MHA. “We are thrilled for the opportunity to help make this happen. Our recent open house invited Glenmeadow residents to learn who we are at MHA and the types of programs and services we provide, in particular outpatient behavioral-health services through BestLife.”
Each Friday, Lee explained, BestLife clinician Sadie Usilton will facilitate a discussion to help residents talk about their feelings on issues of interest to group members. If additional individual needs are revealed in these sessions, confidential one-on-one counseling can be arranged on location, in private space provided by Glenmeadow.
The support group grew from informal talks between Lee and Anne Thomas, president and CEO of Glenmeadow. “Kim and I were introduced through colleagues last fall, and we started chatting,” Thomas recalled. “I’m not from the area and didn’t know about MHA, but I found Kim very engaging. Because COVID made for a horrible year, we started talking about a support group for residents dealing with loss.
“My husband, Scott McGovern, volunteered to share his lived experience overcoming loss with the group,” she went on. “He had volunteered to serve his country in Vietnam, and the experience of war was damaging. He suffered tremendously with PTSD and drug addiction, but for 32 years he’d been sober. He reached out to anyone who needed help with addiction recovery, which is a population that MHA works with. Our plans were starting to fall into place when things suddenly changed. On December 30, I talked with Scott on the phone. He told me he was going out for a run, but when I arrived home later I made a tragic discovery. He never took that run; he had died of a massive heart attack. In Scott’s obituary, I asked that memorial contributions go to Glenmeadow or Wounded Warriors, and we received $45,000 in donations. People who could relate to their own stories of loss, especially losing their own partner of many years, were embracing me through their generosity. It was heartening to have so much support from our community. I knew we needed to do something appropriate to honor Scott.”
A month after Thomas returned to work, Lee reached out to her. “Kim wanted to know how I was doing,” Thomas explained, “and I appreciated that she was there for me. I shared that we were facing another surge of COVID at Glenmeadow, and every day I thought about our residents who were mostly quarantined in their apartments as a result. At our next meeting, we agreed that this Coping with Loss project must move ahead and be in memory of Scott. Despite all the loss he encountered, he earned a degree in computer science, owned and managed an inn, and was a builder, beekeeper, bartender, and environmentalist. And he always made time to help others. Kim and I got excited about the group because it was a way to honor my wonderful husband by helping people cope with their own losses.”
At the well-attended open house, Glenmeadow residents had a chance to interact with MHA staff. “The staff from MHA was amazing and talked to every person in the room,” Thomas said. “There’s already a great deal of enthusiasm for talking about loss, and I know it’s going to keep building because there’s such a need for it. MHA just landed in my lap and has been a great connection from the start. I’m so glad something so positive came out of so much loss.”