By TIM BULLARD
CONWAY — Do you remember the numbing heartache when you were young and your grandfather or grandmother died, and how confusing it was to accept it and process death as part of life?
Imagine you are a grandparent, and you have a terminal illness, but you are hesitant to discuss the issues with your grandchildren and family.
Mercy Hospice of Horry County is designed to assist families faced with the death of loved ones, and Executive Director Sister Connie Fahey says that older residents are being served with dignity.
It has been operating since 1981, and annually serves 350 clients. It was originally created by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary and initially funded by the sisters and the Diocese of Charleston. Through 1980 the organization had served more than 2,700 patients.
“We serve about 50 children here,” said Sister Fahey. “Most of our clients are older. We work with children who are grieving. Grandparents need to really be aware of the children. A kid’s first experience with death is usually with the grandparent.”
“If you don’t deal with it, children always imagine the worst,” Sister Fahey said. “You need to be truthful. A grandparent can be aware that children are very observant. If a child is old enough to know what’s going on, they need to be told in a way they can understand it. Don’t tell them fairy tales. Children will carry it forever. If an adult child dies, the grandchildren need attention. That’s when we get called in often. There’s just too much going on with the surviving child to deal with the children. A parent has just so much energy. They can’t deal with this.”
Sister Fahey is in the process of applying for a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for $30,000 for an Adolescent Grief Program.
“Mercy Hospice is committed to comforting suffering persons who have a chronic progressive life-limiting illness,” said Sister Fahey. “Our goal is to integrate physical, spiritual, psychological and social care by offering a range of services which meet the needs of patients and family members during the final days of life.
“We educate families about death and dying and offer services which promote a comfortable and dignified dying and death. After a person dies, Mercy Hospice continues to serve the bereavement needs of family members, including children. Mercy Hospice provides support and end-of-life care for persons and their families without regard to race, creed or gender.”
The organization also has a Children’s Grief Counseling Program which addresses the special needs of pre-adolescent children who have lost parents or significant persons through death.
“Grief. The word itself conjures up pain, anger and hopelessness, and just like death, it has no respect for age,” Sister Fahey emphasized. “The death of a parent or a significant person in a child’s young life colors the rest of their lives. When grief goes unresolved, there is a part of one that is imprisoned by the loss and is therefore not free to go on and encounter life.
“The emotional and spiritual needs of teen-agers who have experienced the death of a parent, grandparent, teacher, sibling or another teen-ager is not being addressed in Horry County,” Sister Fahey wrote in her grant proposal.
“Well-meaning adults assume that is best not talked about, that ‘they’ll get over it more quickly.’ Adults use euphemisms like ‘passed away’ and ‘she’s in heaven now.’ These statements do not acknowledge that a child is experiencing grief. When a child is not showing any emotions after the death of a loved one, it is often assumed that the child does not understand or has gotten over it.
“All too often adults do not understand grief issues with children, especially teen-agers. Adults are often too caught up in their own grief or simply are not comfortable with the subject of death. Unresolved grief will lead to problems as a child matures.”
Mercy Hospice also has Camp UbU, an annual five-day program designed to provide a safe, healthy environment for any child experiencing grief. The camp is held at a local school site and is for children 12 and under.
The proposed new program for pre-adolescent and adolescent kids will include one-on-one counseling, group counseling sessions, a camp experience and a buddy program.
A documentary has been made recounting the remarkable spiritual journey of Dr. Ronald Lackey, professor emeritus and former Coastal Carolina University chaplain and his struggle with diabetes. His wife, Marva, works with Mercy Hospice.
The film includes monologues by Lackey, his wife and his friend Dr. Charles Sasser, describing the long evolution of their unconventional approach to coping with the disease, which cost Lackey both his legs, several fingers and a kidney.
“He died a couple of weeks ago,” said Sister Fahey.
The film, “Mystery of the Dance,” was produced by Mercy Hospice with technical support from the university.
For more information about Mercy Hospice call 236-2282. Mercy Hospice is a United Way agency and is sponsored by Conway Hospital, Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, and Loris Healthcare System.