Chesapeake Life Center volunteers: Being there virtually

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Carol Fritz has some fun while she volunteers at a Chesapeake Life Center event

Volunteer Carol Fritz has some fun at a pre-COVID Chesapeake Life Center event.

We use terms like “virtual” and “in-person” to describe how our grief support groups and workshops are being held. In reality, even “virtual reality,” it is all in-person. Real people who have experienced loss share their grief journey in real time, working with a counselor or facilitator to process those feelings.

What Chesapeake Life Center has been able to do during the COVID-19 pandemic is to continue to be present for grievers. Much of that support has been through a telehealth platform. In recent months, with the support of our Chief Medical Officer Eric Bush, MD, some of it has been in-person, though in groups of six grievers or less and following strict health guidelines for the protection of all involved.

The center is proud of how our counseling team adjusted to the restrictions of COVID-19, offering bereavement services not only in groups and workshops, but also to individuals and families. But as our volunteers know, it has greatly impacted how they can give of their time and talents to the life center. The availability of COVID-era volunteer opportunities is limited and includes a small, masked crew that comes in to make bereavement calls and do administrative tasks like scanning and preparing mailings. Both can be completed solo in a sanitized cubicle with the support of team members close by.

We have had to sideline our concierges, the volunteers who greet group participants, as well as most of our co-facilitators for groups taking place on campus, people who help with set up, register participants and clean up at public events, and front desk volunteers who greet clients, answer the phones and take referrals for counseling.

A few volunteer co-facilitators have been able to pivot with us, logging into virtual grief support groups to share, comfort and offer insight. One such person is Carol Fritz, who has been volunteering with the center for 27 years.

“As we move through grief, we grow. We learn new things. And so CLC is doing that, too.” — Chesapeake Life Center Director Susan Coale

Carol began volunteering with Camp Nabi after the death of her teenaged daughter. In 2014, she was approached by one of the counselors who asked if she would like to co-facilitate the Child Loss Support Group. She jumped at the chance to help others with the grief she has lived with since Katie’s death in 1993. “I’m really committed to it. When my daughter died I had so much support from family and friends, I was really blessed. I felt that was what my purpose was, to help others.”

When the group began to meet online in response to the COVID-19 restrictions, CLC Director Susan Coale asked if Carol would continue to co-facilitate via Zoom. Again, she was there. “I really like the connection of being in person, however, I enjoy the Zoom because I know we are able to keep it going. We’ve had a good number of people showing up. For me, it’s certainly worth it to still be able to connect with these people. They know there are others like them and others that care.”

As we turn continue into 2021, we talk about going back. Truthfully, things will never be exactly the same. And that is a good thing, Susan said. “It’s not going to be what it used to be. We’ve learned new things. We’ve developed creative new programs. We’ve expanded our offerings and the way we communicate. We are never going to want to be all virtual. But there will be a greater variety of options available than there were before COVID,” she said.

“As we move through grief, we grow,” Susan said. “We learn new things. And so CLC is doing that, too.”

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