Forum touches on loss and loneliness during holidays
Moving stories at event co-hosted by Zane, Belforte
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By Kaydon Coburn  December 14, 2012 12:00 am

The up-close and intimate setting was appropriate for discussing the very personal and sensitive topic of dealing with the loss of a loved one or loneliness during the holiday season.

“The holidays changed a lot when my husband took his life,” confessed Shirlee Zane, Sonoma County Supervisor.

Zane was speaking to about a dozen people last Thursday night about her own tragic experience at the Coping With Loss and Loneliness During the Holidays forum at the Rohnert Park-Cotati Library, which was co-hosted by Rohnert Park Councilmember Gina Belforte.

“One of the reasons I asked about doing this (forum) is when it’s Christmas or Hanukkah, we don’t realize sometimes people are in a lot of pain,” said Belforte. “It’s hard having memories of someone we’ve lost.”

Belforte also briefly shared her experience managing family loss during the holiday season with the audience.
The free public forum, moderated by Zane, featured a diverse, all-star panel of community mental health professionals who individually discussed all aspects of the topic the first hour. They then answered personal questions from the small audience
the second hour. Some attendees shared very personal and heartfelt feelings, which allowed for free advice from the panel. One man asked about how to talk to his teenage son about a family death. Another audience member wanted to know how she should deal with being alone when her family lives thousand of miles away.

“Christmas is a long, long holiday,” she said sternly.

The impressive panel of mental health professionals – each specialize in different areas of mental health, and most are now in private practice – were: Margo Requarth, Children’s Bereavement Coordinator-Sutter Care at Home; Mary Eichmeyer, private practice (families/couples); Dian Barkan, private practice (behavioral health); and Pam Rosenthal, older adult mental liaison to Adult Protective Services. The topics discussed included symptoms of depression, strategies of dealing with death and loss, local religious and spiritual services, strategies with children, employer mental health resources, and the forum offered free informational flyers on local and countywide resources, agencies and services available for mental health issues.

The professionals admit the solution to someone’s holiday loneliness is not as simple as volunteering at the local food bank during the holidays.

“I don’t want to spend Christmas with some else’s family,” said Barkan bluntly.

“I talked to many people about the loss of spouse or a child and how hard the holidays can really be. There is a brighter corner, but you’ve got to turn the corner and still take the journey – and that’s the hard part,” Zane said.

Requarth added, “Greif is a journey that does not go very fast.”

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