Wilsonville offers new bereavement support group

Losing a loved one is never easy. It’s even harder when you lose a spouse after decades of marriage.

Sara Cambreleng of Wilsonville recalls feeling isolated after losing her husband of nearly 27 years. Bob Cambreleng started showing signs of dementia about four years ago. The “spells” gradually worsened over time, and he died in March at age 69.

Though Sara Cambreleng, 64, had the time to say goodbye and accept the loss, it didn’t make it any easier. She needed to connect with others who have gone through the same experience.

To help those working through the grieving process, the folks at the Wilsonville Community Center have formed a monthly bereavement support group.

The group meets the first Friday of each month and is led by by: SUBMITTED - LichtensteinScott Lichtenstein of Golden Lifecare Solutions, a certified natural therapeutics specialist.

Lichtenstein said everyone grieves differently and there are different kinds of losses. For some seniors, the death of a spouse comes suddenly. Others may be caregivers watching their spouses slowly decline before dying. And then there are the caregivers whose spouses are still alive but suffer from conditions like dementia and are no longer the partners they used to be.

There are feelings of loss, isolation, depression, anxiety, confusion and even anger. At a recent group session, Cambreleng said about 20 different emotions were all brought up while discussing the bereavement process.

“When you’ve lost someone you’ve depended on ... those feelings become exacerbated,” Lichtenstein said.

For Cambreleng, she had the time during her husband’s decline to learn and gain independence, but she wasn’t ready for the feeling of isolation. And, she wasn’t prepared to be angry.

“Was I angry at my husband? No. Was I angry at the circumstance? Yes,” she said. “Nothing about grief is rational.”

The loss of a spouse can be especially hard for women, said Sadie Wallenberg, parks and recreation information and referral specialist. They have typically relied on their spouses for certain tasks, such as managing the finances and taking care of home maintenance.

“There’s a feeling of vulnerability. It can be unsettling,” said Lichtenstein.

That is where a support group comes in. It gives seniors a chance to connect with others who have similar experiences and share their stories. They find out they are not alone.

“There just aren’t a lot of support groups in this area,” said Wallenberg. “There’s a big need in the community and we want to fill that need.”

Cambreleng had participated in the center’s support group for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. After her husband’s death, she said she felt lost. And when she heard about the new bereavement group, she jumped at the chance to join.

“It’s nice to know I’m not the only one feeling angry,” Cambreleng said. “A big part of it is you are not alone. ... It’s nice to be in with people that have the same feelings.”

“It’s an amazing organic experience. ... You have a group of people showing up ... simply because they have a need,” Lichtenstein said. “You see people transform right before your eyes. You see this light bulb go off.”

The support group is informal and fluid in its design. Though Lichtenstein comes prepared with a discussion topic, he finds groups tend to lead themselves with talk naturally evolving. Not everyone is required to participate in the group discussion; however, it is common that, once a participant becomes comfortable, he or she will soon join in on the conversation.

“It’s the most accepting, loving, supportive environment I’ve ever found to work in,” he said.

In Lichtenstein’s support groups, one of the biggest guidelines is confidentiality. He said what gets shared at support group meetings never leaves the room.

“That’s really helpful for people to let down their guard and be vulnerable,” he said.

The effects of participating in a support group can be profound. Participants often adjust more quickly to their new lives than others. And, for some couples, their partnership was the sole source of social activity, and the support group gives them a new social network.

“It’s amazing how people build confidence,” Lichtenstein said, referring to how often seniors start off feeling overwhelmed after the death of a spouse and then get control of their lives. “To see people, bit by bit ... transform.”

Not every aspect of the support group is the sharing of the stories, Lichtenstein also weaves in advice, information and resources for those who need them. But for Lichtenstein, the reward is watching seniors get back on their feet and renew their outlook on life.

“The pain is overwhelming, but the ultimate result is people can feel so much better,” he said.

For Cambreleng, what brings her back each month is the fellowship, the sharing and the support.

“It’s the fact that sharing the grief really does help,” she said. “Sharing is halving the pain. It really does help.”

The bereavement support group meets on the first Friday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon at Wilsonville Community Center, 7965 SW Wilsonville Road. The next meeting is Nov. 1. Drop-ins are welcome. For more information, call Sadie Wallenberg at 503-570-1526.

Lori Hall can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 103. Follow her on Twitter, @wspokesman.

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