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Giving back to hospice

As a young teenager, Chelsea Swenson lost her mother to the battle of cancer.

Before she passed away, Swenson's mother was on hospice support, which got Swenson involved during the healing process.

In the fall of 2007, after her mother had died, Swenson, now 16 and a junior at Detroit Lakes High School, had been meeting with Hospice of the Red River Valley Bereavement Specialist Cindy Hendrickson and agreed to go through the Youth Journeys program.

She worked on scrapbook pages on her mother, listened to music, talked, participated in a candle lighting ceremony and then released balloons in her mother's memory.

She said it helped "seeing other kids that were going through the same thing" with the loss of a loved one. Youth Journeys is for youth who have lost anyone they were close with. "It was a learning experience."

Since then, Swenson has gone on to give back to hospice with her volunteerism. She works mainly doing office work, but has also gone to patients' house and helped with cleaning. She said she plans to take her CNA course this fall so she will be able to help with patients even more.

She also utilizes the hospice library and staff to work through her grief.

"She's given a lot back," agreed Hendrickson. She added that Swenson doesn't have a lot of relatives in the Detroit Lakes area, so the women at hospice have become her "aunties" and support system.

Hendrickson said they met the summer after Swenson's mother's death as a kind of mentorship.

"She was so appreciative of the hospice experience, she decided to be a hospice volunteer," Hendrickson said.

At this year's Youth Journeys, Swenson will be pulling double duty as an attendee and a leader.

"You meet other people your own age," she said is the benefit for youth to attend the program. Plus, she added, when going through the grieving process, it's not just adults telling you it'll be OK, but being able to talk to those in the same age category.

Hendrickson echoed that saying," it's great to talk to other kids who have gone through the same thing."

Youth Journeys is for kids age 7-17 who have gone through the death of a loved one. The next Youth Journeys is Saturday, April 18, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the hospice office in Detroit Lakes.

"It's a support group for kids to get together and share their feelings and have fun while doing it," she said.

The day includes lunch and is free for participants.

"It's a really good program. I'd like to see other people there," Swenson said.