How Hearts Can Heal By Giving Back
Posted: 10/1/18 by Michelle Fox (Administrative Director)
One of the many highlights of my job is having the opportunity to meet with new volunteers. In doing so, I have met a multitude of unique and inspirational people! Relocating from Boston and in an effort to plant roots in the York community, Liz Erenberg volunteered her musical talents to our mission. Little did we know, Liz would evolve from our in-house flutist, to a Companion volunteer working directly with the children. She has been faithfully volunteering within our programs and recently asked to author a short article reflecting on her experience at Olivia’s House. We were thrilled to read it and are equally excited to share it with you!
"A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal."
- Steve Marboli, motivational speaker and author
Grief makes appearances on its own schedule. For me, it paid me a visit on a beautiful summer day shortly after I moved to York, PA. I was out for a walk and realized that I was lost in a neighborhood I wasn’t familiar with. I decided to head back towards downtown, and then stumbled on Olivia’s House. The tagline, “a grief and loss center for children,” made me do a double take. My mother passed away when I was 8, and I’d never seen anything like this before. I walked in, took a tour, and was so moved that I signed up to volunteer as a companion.
During the training, one of the key moments for me was asking about companions who’ve experienced losses themselves. Leslie and Julia answered the question by saying that it is very common, but sharing the experience of loss is just one of many qualities that make a good companion. Leslie then said, lovingly but with no vagueness, “this is so NOT about you.”
In absorbing this, I thought of the fine line between deep empathy and self-actualization. I want to help these kids because I empathize with them, but also because it might help me to see the kind of support that didn’t exist when I was 8. When looking at childhood grief straight in the eye, how could my past experience not come into play?
Luckily, through observation and an open mind, I would learn that being a companion wasn’t nearly as complicated as it seemed. The more I focus on the kids, the more I achieve being a good companion and my own fulfillment. It is also inspiring to recognize how much Leslie, Julie, Michelle and all others in this field give of themselves by taking on family tragedies.
I’ve now been a companion in three programs. I am a newbie compared to the other veterans of several years, and I am grateful to learn from them. The lessons I’ve learned from being a companion are numerous and deep. Kids are pure-hearted. They are most open when they feel safe and unjudged, and getting to that point takes patience. At times, you need to talk about the newest Cheetos flavor for 45 minutes to have one kid feel comfortable enough to express something about their loss. It’s also sometimes the quietest participants who benefit the most. Activities, conversations and props that seem surface-level are in fact incredibly deep.
At the end of each night, I always have a natural high reflecting on its powerful moments. I feel inspired by this organization, and also heartbroken at the stories that make it a necessity. It is one of the most poignant combination of feelings I’ve ever experienced.
The point of being a companion is to give back selflessly, but playing a small part in healing these kids’ hearts makes mine heal a little too. Being a companion makes more meaning out of my loss, but also helps me to move forward in the spirit of serving others. Olivia’s House gives the gift of healing to its families and volunteers, planting seeds for the future when grief will undoubtedly decide to visit.
I am grateful that grief made an appearance in my life on that summer day. Perhaps it was no accident I got lost, because then I found myself at Olivia’s House. When giving back to the community like this, grief can sometimes be a welcome visitor.
- Elizabeth Erenberg
Bert Ochterbeck - A Friend to All
Posted: 9/1/18 by Leslie Delp, MA (Founder and Bereavement Specialist)
The clock chimes hourly on the front desk in our office suite. It reminds us of the time but also of a very special man, the man who built it! Bert Ochterbeck was a treasured friend to the mission of Olivia’s House. He came through the door within months of our opening. Bert had made a beautiful piece of art for our center and was proudly donating it to us. His wife, Judy, had lost her son, Bert’s stepson Kurt, and they both wanted to give back in remembrance of him.
Bert died recently and when Judy called to share the sad news, our mission stood still for a moment to remember the man who helped to make our house a home!
Bert created more than that one piece of stained glass art for Olivia’s House. As a matter of fact, there are only a few rooms that do not have a “piece of Bert” in them! Not only did he create art to be displayed in our center, but he created a piece to be auctioned off at the Olivian Gala, as well as an item for a special Christmas auction that served to pay for the children’s holiday shopping every year!
Bert was one of a kind. He deserved every honor bestowed on him. We are proud to have nominated him for the Red Cross Hero Award. When we accompanied him and his family to the awards dinner, he cried. We were so proud that he was “our Bert,” having been nominated for the care he showed to the Amish families after the Schoolhouse Shooting. His handmade stained glass angels were gifts from Bert to the families who lost their daughters. Each child was buried with an angel in her casket, something never done before, breaking with the Amish tradition of simplicity.
Bert will always be remembered for his kindness, his love of children and his dedication to our mission. Our staff fondly recalls his love of long conversations! Upon learning of Bert's death this summer, we mused that St. Peter would need to coax him through the gates of heaven before he held up the line! We love you and miss you, Bertie!
When a Celebrity Completes Suicide
Posted: 8/1/18 Julia Dunn, M.Ed. (Program Director)
Recently our nation (and beyond) took an emotional blow when both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain completed suicide within a week of each other. Many people were shocked that individuals so successful, celebrities who seem to “have it all,” would take their own lives. Part of our mission at Olivia’s House is to educate people about death, and with so many people questioning “Why?” it seemed like a good time for the conversation!
Celebrities are not immune from mental illness. Wealth and fame do not protect any of us from depression and other mood disorders. Depression can manifest in obvious ways: apathy, lack of interest in activities, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. But many times, people with depression are experts at hiding their illness. They present to the world as if everything is fine. They may even be what their loved ones consider a “beacon of light and happiness.”
Spade and Bourdain are individuals who brought a tremendous amount of light and joy to the world. It’s because of this ability to hide the illness that friends and family are so often caught off guard when someone they love completes suicide. The truth is, however, that these loved ones with mental illness may have used their small amounts of energy to give the illusion of joy to those around them.
It is crucial for any individual, but especially one with mental illness, to be surrounded by a strong support system. A support system is comprised of people who genuinely love us for who we are, unconditionally, and will even give us tough love when we need it. We often idolize celebrities to the point at which they no longer seem human; rather, we place them on a pedestal and fluctuate between obsessing over them and criticizing them. A celebrity with mental illness is constantly caught in the uncertainty of not knowing whether the people around them actually appreciate their fundamental humanness or merely admire them for their wealth and status. Because of this, celebrities often lack a strong support system and lack connectedness to others. Because they are emotionally isolated, their depression deepens.
It’s important to remember that no one is invincible. If we expect people at “the top of their game” to be immune to mental illness, we are placing unreasonable pressure on those who look up to us, namely our children, to be perfect. It is okay, and even beneficial, to use these notable suicides to start conversations with our children about mental health issues and the importance of developing coping skills and a strong emotional support system.
The Staff Retreat
Posted: 7/2/18 by K.C. Delp (Executive Director)
“I could never work at Olivia’s
House.” People regularly share this sentiment with us and, while we are always surprised
(because we love our jobs), we
are also very much aware that “compassion fatigue” is a very real part of our
profession. As Executive Director, it is my job to ensure the well-being of our staff. It is not an easy job, and
sometimes I am truly challenged to come up with creative solutions. Nevertheless,
I take it very seriously.
our staff takes care of ourselves is our annual staff retreat. The staff retreat began when a donor bequeathed us her estate
with the caveat to “take care of yourselves too.” Our Board of Directors
encouraged the staff to get out of town, take time away from the grief center,
enjoy each other’s company, gain perspective and be inspired.
At the end of July, we will be
closing the grief center for a few days, so we can “retreat” to Washington,
D.C. We are excited to see the sights, take in some history, and converse over
delicious food at trendy restaurants! I
am looking forward to spending a day at Arlington National
Cemetery. While solemn and full of reverence, nothing exemplifies the need for
our mission quite like standing at the Tomb
of the Unknowns or witnessing the changing of the guard at the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame.
I feel that all the hard work that
our staff does each day will be validated in those moments!
We hope you can understand our need
to close the center for a few days, to
turn inward, reflect on the work we do, and take the opportunity for renewal
and refreshment. When
we return from Washington, we'll look forward to reporting back on our Facebook
and Instagram with the lessons we learned, the fresh ideas we discussed, and
the great food we sampled!