When Anne Donato lost her husband, Ruben, to a fast-moving cancer four years ago, she was overwhelmed with grief. “It was rough in the beginning,” says the 69-year-old Fairfield resident. “We were looking forward to traveling when I retired, but he just didn’t make it. I didn’t know where to turn, what to do, where to go.”
Her stepdaughter, hoping to help her cope with the grief, asked if she would consider becoming a foster mom to a litter of puppies. Anne admits she was reluctant to take on the responsibility at first, but soon realized “the puppies kept me occupied and gave me a purpose to get out of bed every morning.” Eventually she adopted another puppy, born a year to the day of Ruben’s death. She named him Ruben, with her stepdaughter’s permission.
Anne then took her healing process a step further by joining a support group run by NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement. While she came to the meetings to find support, she came away with much, much more: a whole new group of friends.
“There are about six of us who broke off from the group and started doing things together, like going out to dinner after the bereavement meetings.”
Not only did these six find comfort in their shared struggles, but comfort in shared interests.
Like Anne, Mary Turner, 73, had also experienced sudden loss with the death of both her mother and her husband. A short time later two of her beloved dogs passed away.
“It was a lot of loss for me,” explains the Vacaville resident. Mary was receiving individual grief counseling through NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement when she decided to give the group meetings a try. “That’s when I met Anne and her dog, Ruben. I’m a dog person, but he growled at me. The next meeting, I brought treats.”
“We have formed a bond,” Mary says of her friendship with Anne and others in their group. “We struggled to get through a dark tunnel and we’ve come out the other side. Now, we call on each other when we have a bad day, and also when we have good days.”
“We meet at a restaurant for Happy Hour,” Anne explains. “You can get an appetizer and a drink, and then you don’t have to eat alone. Plus, it gets you out of the house!” “And, we don’t have to explain what we’re thinking or feeling,” Mary adds.
In addition to meeting at area restaurants, the group rented a limousine and spent a day in San Francisco, and have organized other fun events. Mary and Anne have taken two cruises together, and are planning another trip to the Mediterranean this year. And, despite swearing she could never bear the idea of owning another dog, Mary did recently adopt an English Springer Spaniel—a special dog who was born with a cleft palate—and named him Tug, “because he pulled at my heartstrings.”
For those dealing with the loss of a loved one, both new-found friends have some advice. “It’s important to be open to new experiences and new people,” Mary says. “I’ve learned there is a life down the road,” Anne adds. “You can make another life for yourself. You can still have your old friends, and make new ones, too.”
Bereavement Groups Available
NorthBay Hospice and Bereavement offers a variety of bereavement support groups for children, teens, young adults and adults on a continuous basis. Services are available free of charge for anyone in our community who has experienced a death. For a schedule and more information, call (707) 646-3517.