Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Ann Marie Schwein is a St. Louis native and bereavement volunteer at the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA), where she shares her story to help fellow caregivers through their grief journeys.
Ann Marie was connected with VNA through their partnership with Love on a Leash, a local pet-assisted therapy group that utilizes touch therapy to help people deal with emotional symptoms that aren’t always treatable by physical medicine. When she found out about the opportunity to serve hospice patients specifically, she let VNA know she was interested and promptly got involved.
While volunteering with Love on a Leash and VNA, Ann Marie’s husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and passed away.
“For the first year after he passed, I was in a fog. I don’t remember much of anything,” says Ann Marie. “The next year was the beginning of COVID-19, so I couldn’t do much to ‘move forward.’ It wasn’t until [this year] that I started to breathe and came back around to being Ann Marie.”
With this feeling of being herself again and having space to process her grief, Ann Marie believed it was time to give back and help others dealing with the same feelings she was by becoming a bereavement volunteer.
“I knew instinctively I needed to get into bereavement,” says Ann Marie. “God touched me and said, ‘Ann Marie, you need to share your journey and help other people who have lost their loved ones and show them there’s a life afterwards.”
This is exactly what Ann Marie has done through the VNA’s bereavement program where she speaks with grieving caregivers on Zoom.
“During COVID, I read a ton of books and went through bereavement services and programs myself. I found a lot of value in it, so I was very driven, and that was the impetus for me to encourage other people. I just wanted to share all the stuff I’d learned and help others.”
Her main goal is to validate grieving caregivers’ feelings because it’s easy for people to think they’re crazy for holding onto their feelings longer than is expected by their communities. It’s a matter of walking alongside people from a safe distance so that they can process and heal on their own, rather than tightly holding their hand or imposing expectations.
“This experience has helped teach me to be very patient. People are on their own journey, and I shouldn’t try to push that along. I have to be available and supportive, but not intrusive.”
Caregivers participating in VNA’s grief groups have expressed their gratitude for Ann Marie’s willingness to share her story and insights as a bereavement volunteer. Her attendance of VNA’s grief groups has made a tangible impact on the lives of those involved.
If you’re interested in volunteering as a bereavement volunteer with the VNA, visit https://www.vnastl.com/volunteer.
For more stories about our grief support groups, read https://www.vnastl.com/post/grief-support-stories.