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Haverhill Volunteer Leads New Merrimack Valley Hospice Support Group for LGBTQ+ Community

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Lawrence, Mass. – Following the death of his husband of 20 years at Merrimack Valley Hospice’s High Pointe House in October 2018, David Zoffoli experienced shock, overwhelming grief and numbness. Despite ongoing support from a strong network of family and close friends, Zoffoli said his healing has been slowed by discriminatory behaviors and anti-queer microaggressions which are common to marginalized groups.

Recognizing the vital nature of a sense of community, shared experiences and connection, Zoffoli and Merrimack Valley Hospice Clinical Social Worker Kara Cheek are co-facilitating a new virtual support group for individuals in the LGBTQ+ community who are grieving a death. The group meets every other Tuesday, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m., via Zoom in a drop-in format, with no long-term commitment required.

“It has been wonderful to welcome David into the Merrimack Valley Hospice family,” Cheek said. “Moving the group to the Zoom platform during the pandemic has allowed us to reach a wider audience, and having David on board has made this process easier. He is a joy for me to work with personally, and his experience with losing a spouse is deeply appreciated by the group members. He really gets it.”

Zoffoli said he was so appreciative of the compassionate care which he received alongside his late husband, Stephen Fales, that he resolved to give back to Merrimack Valley Hospice. In addition to donating an award-winning photograph taken by Fales to a fundraiser benefiting the nonprofit organization, Zoffoli became an active volunteer following the required one-year waiting period following a loss.

In “Volunteering From a Distance, the fifth podcast episode of “Compassionate Journeys: Conversations About Home Care and Hospice,” Zoffoli discusses his roles co-facilitating the support group; sewing memory pillows and teddy bears from clothing of the deceased; and leading the virtual Calm Breathing session each week for staff members and fellow volunteers of Home Health Foundation, which includes providers Merrimack Valley Hospice, Circle Home, Commonwealth Nursing Services, Hallmark Health VNA, Home Health VNA, Home Health VNA of NH and York Hospital Hospice as part of the Wellforce Health System.

“It’s sad to say that the LGBTQ+ community still experiences significant disenfranchisement,” said Zoffoli, recalling how “heads swiveled” when he was overheard discussing his late husband’s death benefits at a Social Security office. Despite his grief, he then felt forced to summon energy he didn’t have in order to make those around him laugh and feel comfortable.

“It’s a familiar adaption that many in disenfranchised communities face,” Zoffoli said. “Through this support group, Kara and I are committed to providing a safe place to discuss the myriad of issues that complicate bereavement for LBGTQ+ people so that healing can hopefully begin.”

Merrimack Valley Hospice’s full range of support groups for adults, children and spouses/partners are free of charge and open to the public. To register and learn more, call 978-552-4510 or go to www.MerrimackValleyHospice.org.

About Merrimack Valley Hospice

Merrimack Valley Hospice is a not-for-profit agency providing comfort care and supportive services to patients nearing the end of life and bereavement services to their families and loved ones. Together with Home Health VNA, the agencies provide a full continuum of home health and hospice care in more than 110 communities throughout the Merrimack Valley, Northeastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. Merrimack Valley Hospice also serves the Southern Maine region as York Hospital Hospice. For more information, visit MerrimackValleyHospice.org

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