The H.O.P.E. organization offers a safe space for those who have lost a spouse or partner.
“I remember walking into the meeting for the first time and thought, ‘Why am I here? Do I need this? What’s going on?’” said Carolyn Albertson, longtime member of H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Evolve). “I sat down, and people started talking and I was shaking my head and was like, ‘Oh my god, I went through that and I’m feeling that.’
“I just really felt so close to these people right away.”
The nonprofit’s dedication to helping widows and widowers means that 100 percent of its time and effort is focused on the needs of those grieving. State H.O.P.E chapters hold meetings in multiple locations throughout Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties, with two permanent virtual chapters.
All H.O.P.E.’s group leaders have lost their spouses or partners, so they can provide a warm environment for attendees to learn about the many things they face, strategies for easing the pain and an opportunity to share with one another.
“What I love about H.O.P.E. and what I tell others is that it’s run by other people who have experienced this,” noted longtime member Nancy Shubach. “It’s not run by professionals. I had gone to a few other groups that were run by a social worker or a grief counselor … Those were good, but they ended after six weeks, and you didn’t get that same feeling that they really walked in your shoes.”
H.O.P.E. groups meet weekly, with the year divided into spring, summer, fall and winter sessions of 10 weeks each. All meetings vary and offer new materials for someone to attend for a full year, while those needing more help can return for additional sessions.
For those who have gotten through the worst of their grief, the organization also offers a “Bridge” group session that focuses on the challenges of starting a new life without the comfort and support of a loving spouse or partner.
“Long life friendships come out of this group,” Albertson explained. “People bond within the group, and then when they stop meeting, they still gather and do trips and functions and lunches and dinners.”
Longtime H.O.P.E. member Cheryl Lanuti lost her husband in 2013 and formed bonds with others in the same position.
“ … I walked in and I wanted to talk so bad, I wanted to tell my story so bad, that I couldn’t wait for them to get to my turn, because it let me get it out,” she recalled. “I just remember crying, everybody’s crying, and it was a tough thing to get through, but wonderful to be with people that felt the same way.”
Lanuti and Shubach emphasized that H.O.P.E.’s goals include reaching as many people as possible.
“If I’m out socially and I hear somebody say, ‘I’m a widow’ or ‘I just became a widower,’ I’m right there to say, ‘Oh really? I am, too, and I want you to know that there’s help out there,’” Lanuti offered.
“I’m always out there trying to help and tell people that we are available for them.”
“The other thing I think we benefit from is, I feel like I’m still in the grief stage, but when I’m there and some of the new people come on (virtually), I can offer something,” Shubach pointed out.
“It feels so good to be a little bit on the other side now, to be helping rather than just taking, and that helps me grow, too.”
For more information on H.O.P.E., visit https://hopesnj.org.