For years, Mike Goodwin of Fairfield was locked in an emotional prison, unable to deal with the devastating loss of his son, Joshua. “I had heard that there were things available to help people who were grieving, but I didn’t want to talk to anybody about anything,” said the U.S. Air Force veteran. ” I didn’t, for five years.”
That changed when he met Linda AndPribble, NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement volunteer and bereavement coordinator, and today he is helping other veterans recover from their grief.
A former police officer and current criminal justice professor at Solano Community College, Mike says he spent years trying to find a reason or purpose for his son’s death—something, anything—to make sense of it.
“I never did,” he said.
Then, Mike saw an announcement that NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement was about to start a new series of “Journey through Grief” classes, and something just clicked. “I decided that if I couldn’t find a purpose for his death, I’d find a purpose for the life I had remaining, a purpose much bigger than me and one that could help me heal.”
When Mike contacted Linda, she recommended that he sign up for the eight-week program.
It worked. Time spent hearing how others were coping with their losses offered him hope and the purpose he craved, by providing him with an opportunity to help others, as well.
Time spent hearing how others were coping with their losses offered Mike Goodwin hope and the purpose he craved by providing him an opportunity to help others.
That’s because Linda recommended he consider taking training to become a bereavement volunteer. Mike agreed, and since completing bereavement volunteer training, he meets one-on-one with people who are in deep grief, helps run the Journey through Grief classes, offers to make follow-up calls to those in the program, and volunteers at the annual Tree of Memories memorial event.
When NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement began a new collaboration for veterans, through the “We Honor Veterans” program, Linda reached out to Mike again, with his military background, to help build it. “He was a natural choice,” Linda recalled.
“We Honor Veterans” is a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, in collaboration with the Department of Veteran Affairs. It works with hospice organizations to provide staff and volunteers with educational tools and resources to help them better understand military culture and the unique needs of veterans.
“Only someone who has been to war knows what it’s like to live with those traumatic memories,” Linda explained. “And only another veteran could know how this might affect another veteran.”
This is especially true for those seeking peace at the end of life or are dealing with the loss of a spouse or child, or coping with the pressure of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she added.
As a first step toward earning the first of four stars in the “We Honor Veterans” program, Linda began a special grief support group for widowers who also happen to be veterans, and Mike has been helping to facilitate it.
“The response to the veterans support group has been outstanding,” Mike said. “We started out with six guys, and now we have at least 10. They can see this is a safe forum for them to talk about their loss. Our connection here is that we’re all veterans, and that we’ve lost a wife, or a child.”
Mike McGee was one of the first veterans to join the group, after he lost his wife of 57 years. She had been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in July 2014, and passed away just six weeks later. “It was like wildfire,” recalled the Korea-era Army veteran.
NorthBay Hospice nurses recommended that McGee, as he likes to be called, consider bereavement counseling, and Linda suggested he meet with the veterans support group. McGee hasn’t missed a meeting since.
“It has been a very rewarding experience,” McGee said. “I really look forward to every meeting. It’s a good group of guys; what you hear here, stays here. There is camaraderie among veterans, strength in numbers, you know. We can share our experiences—the funny ones, the sad ones.”
“I like the idea of being there for veterans,” said Mike Goodwin. “Many of them are just not aware of all the resources that are available. Many of our older veterans are of a generation that didn’t much address grief, except to say ‘just keep moving on, just deal with it.'”
While many have done just that, Mike Goodwin and Linda want to offer an alternative. “I give a lot of credit to people who have the courage to talk about their grief after only a few months,” Mike Goodwin added. “I couldn’t do it. But, no one has to suffer their loss alone. There are people here that you can talk to and who will listen.”