With all the rain over the last couple months, we sure are ready for spring! With March, we welcome Daylight Saving Time (3/12) followed by the first day of spring (3/20)! The ground softens, buds and blossoms start to poke through, and animals come out of hibernation. A true sense of renewal!
In this month’s newsletter, we get to know more about long-time supporter, volunteer, and staff member Shelly Gillan, updates on our 40th Anniversary Celebration, upcoming groups at Kara, as well as other offerings such as our Caregivers Forum and upcoming Compassion Cultivation Training with certified Stanford CCT instructor, Robert Cusick. Continue reading for all the details!
We are grateful for the opportunity to offer care, compassion and connection to the bereaved in our community.
Kara Spotlight: Shelly Gillan
For our Kara Spotlight this month, we highlight individuals from within our Kara community. This month, we highlight Shelly Gillan, MFT. Shelly is first a wife, mother and grandmother who loves sharing time with her family and friends. In her spare time, she loves college football, The San Francisco Giants, spending time at the beach and playing with her grandson. Currently Kara’s Client Services and Programs Director, Shelly first started volunteering at Kara in 1994.
How did you get involved in Kara?
What brought me to Kara was a life-changing night in November 1993, when I got a call that a family friend, Don Dexter, had died suddenly of a heart attack. What remains clear in my mind is how helpless I felt when I looked at the faces of Don’s three sons, ages 3, 7, and 9. My heart ached for them, for their mother JoAnne, and for my own two children.
I wanted to ease their pain, but my instincts and intuition failed me, and my own overwhelming sense of grief made me feel helpless. In the jumble of those first days I was referred to Kara’s Director of Youth and Family services. I have no words to describe the depth of support I received. Not only did I get help and resources, but I could see that Kara had many tools and resources to help families and others in their time of loss. Shortly after my first meeting at Kara, I began my journey to learn more. The Kara training and volunteer work opened my eyes to so many new ways to help, and it was clear to me that formal education was the next step.
I went back to school and soon earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. But when I got to The University of San Francisco to begin my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, I knew without a doubt that I was on the right path.
In retrospect, I know my work with grief and loss is what I’m meant to do. In the early days, it was my best judgement and being a good listener that pointed me in the right direction. Next, it was my education and mentors that validated, legitimized, and carried me forward. And now, I am guided by the people who trust me to help them in their most difficult moments, who always teach me something new about the depth of who we are as human beings, and how we can help each other.
What do you think distinguishes Kara from other bereavement services?
The generous giving of time, care, and dedication from those who self-select to serve others that are suffering distinguishes Kara from other services. Most everyone who is a volunteer or on staff here at Kara has experienced their own significant loss, which allows deeper understanding, empathy, and compassion for others.
What is an area of growth you’ve seen in Kara over your time as a volunteer?
In the 24 years that I have been at Kara I have seen it grow from a tiny word-of-mouth organization, focused on individual end-of-life and peer grief support, to providing individual and ongoing group support in easing the longer term impact of loss.
I have seen Kara step up to our collective needs at a time when suicides were gripping us all with despair. I have seen Kara’s referral sources grow from a small circle of word-of-mouth folks in-the-know to referrals from medical professionals, hospitals, schools, fire fighters, police, and anyone who comes in contact with those suffering from loss.
I have seen Kara’s education programs grow, with the goal of preventing tragedies before they happen. I have witnessed the birth and evolution of School based grief groups and Camp Erin, where children are given a safe and loving place to take on the risk of facing the pain of loss.
I have seen Kara go from almost obscurity to becoming THE trusted resource for grief support in our community. I am so fortunate to be part of an organization that is always growing, always evolving, with the overarching goal of helping as many people as we can.
Share an impactful experience during your time with Kara.
I remember working with a man who lost his wife. She had been his rock, his stability, and his suffering was deep. Earlier in his life he had experienced horrific trauma while serving in the Vietnam War, and he struggled daily as a result. It was his wife who would always calm down his suicidal thoughts, and bring him back from his place of despair. When she died, he lost his center and was adrift.
When I first met him, he camouflaged his vulnerability with an almost menacing toughness. But at Kara we are trained to look beyond the many ways that people try to push us away. I knew how to be unwavering in my support of him. To every session I brought patience and an open heart, without judgement.
Over time, he honored me with his trust, finally opening the door to his most vulnerable thoughts and emotions. And so began the healing. I worked with him for almost 3 years, until his diagnosis of lung cancer. At that point my work shifted to supporting him through the end of his life. In his last days I sat with him in the hospital, and at the end he talked me through his final journey. Out loud, he guided me through his visualized escape through the hospital window, his escape from the intense suffering he had endured in life. In our goodbyes, I witnessed this man, who had suffered so much, finally find peace.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about supporting Kara?
Your support can make the difference between someone getting support or not. Supporting Kara means that someone has a safe place to find their way back to a life with meaning and hope. We are here for you. We accept you as you are. We do not judge. We offer unconditional love and support through the natural human process of grief and loss.
What made you laugh the hardest most recently?
Recently, I was feeding seagulls in the rain with my 2 ½ year old grandson. He has an infectious belly-laugh that keeps me laughing for hours. The combination of his innocence, curiosity and eagerness to discover new things, always bring me joy and laughter.
Thank you for all your excitement for our upcoming 40th Anniversary Celebration Fundraiser and Gala! Tickets have sold out and we have created a wait list for those who would like to be contacted if tickets become available.
While the event is sold out, there are many ways to support our incredible milestone! We invite you to make a 40th Anniversary Commemorative gift or participate in the event as a sponsor, in-kind donor, or day-of event volunteer. To learn more about ways to get involved, please contact Sarah Dover at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suicide Survivors Group starting April 6, 2017
Kara will be starting the Suicide Survivors Group in our Palo Alto office next month. The group is designed for adults who have had a family member or close friend die as a result of suicide. It provides a safe and supportive environment for adults who are grieving to share their experiences and feelings as well as learn about the grieving process.
An initial interview is required before enrolling in the group. Although no fee is required for participating in this group, regular donations are suggested and appreciated. To set up an interview, please submit an online request form or call us at 650-321-5272.
Many find it helpful to meet with others who have experienced a similar loss. These groups, facilitated by our trained volunteers, offer an opportunity to share experiences in a safe, supportive environment. Kara offers regularly scheduled ongoing drop-in groups for adults throughout the year.
General Drop-In Group:
1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month from 7:00 – 8:30 pm
General Drop-In Group:
2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month from 1:00 – 2:30 pm
Men’s Drop-In Group:
4th Tuesday of the month from 7:00-8:30 pm
Visit our calendar to get the full dates for our Drop-In groups.
Kara’s Youth and Family program currently has openings in its sudden loss peer support groups for families. Children who have experienced the death of a parent and adults who have experienced the death of a spouse or partner through sudden loss are able to meet twice a month in a safe and supportive environment. Children meet together to process their grief through a range of activities, while parents meet together to share their experiences around their own grief and parenting issues.
An intake is required to join the groups. For more information, please call Kara at 650-321-5272.
Inner Resources for Stress Class with Palo Alto University
Join Kara and the Inner Resources for Stress program from Palo Alto University in an 8-week course on ways to enhance your ability to cope with stress. Participants will attend weekly group sessions that focus on meditation, mind-body awareness practices, and stress reduction techniques. This is a non-religious course, involving sitting, breathing, and noticing thoughts and body. No yoga or rigorous exercise is required. No previous experience is required, and meditation beginners are welcome.
For more information or to register for the upcoming class, please email Nicole or Gaby at IR@paloalto.edu.
Caregivers Forum: Is it Compassion Fatigue?
Register for the class on March 30, 2017
Our Caregivers Forum is designed to anyone charged or entrusted with the responsibility of caregiving. It is open to professional caregivers, as well as those providing care to family, friends or clients across a broad spectrum of needs that include chronic or life-threatening illnesses to caring for and accompanying others through their personal experience of grief.
Our next Forum will be held on Thursday March 30, 2017. In it, join facilitator Robert Cusick as he invites participants to take a close look at compassion fatigue – what it is, what it isn’t, and explore practical methods to ease the suffering associated with illness, dying and death. Register for the event by clicking HERE.
Compassion Cultivation Training starts Tuesday April 4, 2017
CCT ™ (Compassion Cultivation Training) is an 8-week course that was developed in the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University School of Medicine. In this course, participants will explore questions about the nature of compassion relevant to the ebb & flow of their own real-world daily life experiences. Processes include: Guided compassion techniques, some movement and breathing exercises, meditation exercises, along with contemplative practices and inquiry — intended to release that which blocks your ability to access the qualities of empathy, connection, openhearted presence and compassion.
We are just about a month and half away from our 40th Anniversary Celebration Fundraiser and Gala! We’re looking for day-of event volunteers who would like to help with the operations of the event.
We have roles such as helping with set-up and clean-up, registration, selling raffle tickets, game attendants, and more! If you are interested, please contact Sarah Dover at email@example.com.
Thank you and we can’t wait to share this momentous evening with everyone!
PARTNER & ADVOCACY CORNER
We are GRATEFUL for YOU!
A special thanks to the New York Life Foundation for the generous Grief Reach grant in support of our new service initiative serving children in Community Schools. Read more about their deep commitment to childhood bereavement organizations across the country. We are truly grateful for their support!