Park Ridge grief counselor: Holidays like Father’s Day remind some of loss
Myrna Fogarty is a grief counselor for Center of Concern in Park Ridge. | Natasha Wasinski~For Sun-Times Media
NAME: Myrna Fogarty
BEST KNOWN AS: Center of Concern grief counselor
HOMETOWN: Park Ridge
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:01PM
Though a holiday like Father’s Day is rooted in celebrating people dear to the heart, the date sometimes serves more as a reminder of those who are no longer around.
Myrna Fogarty, a grief counselor at Park Ridge’s Center of Concern for the past 13 years, said birthdays and holidays can be triggers of sadness for children mourning the death of a parent and experiencing a gap in their lives.
“Most people who need grief counseling are at a loss,” Fogarty said. “They are grieving the loss of a person and need to fill that hole.”
She said the degree of grief endured depends on the closeness of the relationship. Age, too, is a major factor.
In her work counseling adults Fogarty has found that handling the loss of a spouse is typically more difficult than that of a parent, as the mind subconsciously prepares for the day when older mothers and fathers are no longer around.
“We know that our parents can’t be with us forever,” she said.
On the other hand life companions are expected to be just that: there for the duration of a life lived together. Losing a spouse early in the relationship is extremely painful, Fogarty said. The unexpectedness of death leaves the widowed with less time to prepare mentally and emotionally.
In coping with grief Fogarty recommends spending as much time as possible with others, particularly family members. Developing habits and hobbies outside the house is also important.
“The worst thing you can do is sit at home alone and think about your problems,” she said.
At the Center of Concern, 1580 N. Northwest Highway, Fogarty conducts individual grief-counseling sessions and facilitates a support group for caregivers of victims of Alzheimer’s disease, a field she has come to specialize in.
A longtime Park Ridge resident and nurse, Fogarty stayed home to raise six children before returning to work in adult care in the 1980s. After realizing the tremendous need in services related to Alzheimer’s, she decided to go back to school while in her 50s to earn a degree in social work.
Fogarty said longer life expectancies mean diseases related to aging like dementia are becoming more prevalent and, as a result, affecting generations of families.
According to data from the World Bank, people in the United States in 2010 lived on average to be 78 years old. In 1965 the life expectancy was 70.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia among older adults, usually begins after age 60 and increases in risk with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the disease affects brain function and a person’s ability to carry out daily activities, family members often bear the burden for taking care of once-independent adults.
Grown-up children with elderly parents suffering from Alzheimer’s are known as the “sandwich generation,” Fogarty said.
The dual role they play in raising kids while assisting impaired parents sometimes takes a heavy toll.
“If they can’t afford a paid caregiver, it can become a real chore,” Fogarty said.
Witnessing a parent or spouse fall victim to Alzheimer’s is, in some ways, a loss in and of itself.
“You’re losing them slowly,” she said. “It’s almost a blessing when God takes them.”
Support groups provide a means for caregivers to connect with others in similar situations and to bounce around ideas for coping with the involuntary changing behaviors of loved ones.
Taking care of others in times of need is part of creating community, Fogarty said, and is the reason for why she has continued to work in the health field at 76 years old.
“Support is the main vehicle for getting over grief,” Fogarty said. “Park Ridge is a very supportive community.”