Helping those grieving the loss of a loved one is personal for this counselor
With kindness and compassion, Advocate Hospice bereavement counselor Penelope Gabriele helps those grieving the loss of a loved one and brings a very personal perspective.
She experienced grief early in her life when, as a young mother of a 3-year-old daughter, she herself was widowed and had to build a new life. She married again, raised four children, earned a degree in fashion merchandising and opened a consignment store.
“It was there that I had an epiphany about my future,” Gabriele says. “I loved talking to people and decided to channel that ability into a career where I could really help.”
She returned to school, joined Advocate Hospice first as an intern and then as a licensed bereavement counselor. She now works one on one with people and directs several support groups.
“Our bereavement program’s Widow to Widow group is one I’m most proud of,” she says. “Many of our participants, even those who joined 10 years ago or more, continue to support one another. Through us, they have developed lasting friendships and are there for one another in good times and bad.”
Gabriele was also instrumental in creating Camp Bear Hugs, a grief camp for children who have lost a parent, grandparent, sibling or friend. The camp gives kids a safe place to be with others of similar experience and to share their feelings. Launched 10 years ago, this important event continued during the pandemic, re-imagined as a virtual event instead of the in-person, two-day event usually held during the summer. The 2020 and 2021 Camp Bear Hugs still provided a space where children could talk together and know they’re not alone.
“Our work over the past two years has been especially important,” she says. “There are so many people grieving a loss, and many were not able to be with their loved ones at the end because of the pandemic. That makes the grieving process even harder and we understand how important it is to be able to say goodbye. Though we couldn’t offer in-person contact during this time, we did it virtually, which was vital for people who had suffered a loss. In many cases, we were the only people they had spoken to in a long time. We were their lifeline.”
Gabriele emphasizes that to heal, people who’ve lost a loved one need to be acknowledged and validated. “They just want someone to listen. That’s what I do. I listen.”