BOULDER — When Jim Schott’s second wife, Arlene, died in 1989 at age 57, he cleaned house. He scrapped cancer-related medical supplies and other things that reminded him of his lost love to keep raw pain at a greater distance.
But Tuesday afternoon, 16 years later, the now-remarried Niwot man attended the grand opening of the Grief and Education Center in Boulder to support understanding and acceptance of death’s place in life.
“It seems like what (the center) does is it lends a huge credibility to (the notion) that grief is a natural process that everyone experiences, and now there’s an edifice that says it’s real and it’s OK to feel pain in grief,” said the 69-year-old Schott, who owns Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy.
The new facility’s sunflower, sage and sky-blue paint had barely dried when approximately 75 people popped in for the late-afternoon open house.
The center’s parent organization, HospiceCare of Boulder and Broomfield Counties in Lafayette, opened the 3,600-square-foot basement facility in May. But all summer contractors continued remodeling and decorating the center to accommodate everything from the “Volcano Room” — where kids and adults can safely vent anger by tearing phone books or donning boxing gloves — to staff offices and counseling rooms.
Picture windows line the west wall of the education room at the heart of the space, through which visitors can see the adjoining HospiceCare & Share Thrift Shop, which helps support HospiceCare ventures.
The idea for the facility was conceived about five years ago by Kim Mooney, the center’s director.
The center exists, she explained, to fulfill the three “Cs” of its mission: to extend compassion, create conversation and develop community.
Mooney later added that the center is open to all, not just the friends and family of HospiceCare patients, and that it can be tapped before a loss hits.
“It’s easier to talk about (losses) when they’re theoretical. It’s not easy to talk about once the phone rings,” she said.
A drizzling rain dampened plans to release doves at the open house. But HospiceCare’s staff chaplain Bob Ritzen conducted a short ceremony to bless the place and its role in comforting those who mourn.
Peggy Arnold, Senior Wellness program staff member at Longmont United Hospital and a member of the Front Range End-of-Life Coalition, stopped by to see the new community resource.
“What hospice has done is brought death out of the closet,” she said while touring a children’s playroom scattered with stuffed animals, a miniature sandbox and garlands of lights on the walls. “Having a special center for just dealing with grief extends that process. It shows that the community supports (those grieving) in what has been a private process.”
In 2004, HospiceCare served about 1,000 dying residents with mostly in-home visits, Mooney said. Nearly a thousand survivors sought HospiceCare’s grief and educational services.
Schott called the services invaluable and, after volunteering to lead a support bereaved spouses group for HospiceCare from 1998 to 2003, he will be leading another group for adults mourning the loss of a parent at the center this fall.
“They refer to themselves as the ‘walking wounded.’ They think their pain should show because it’s so profound, but it doesn’t,” he said of survivors. “When they come to a group, they’re so grateful for people who understand. (Conversations) with others can be hollow.”
Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-684-5224 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.