Finding Support In Your Grief: Diane Ulrich & Family

Heidi White was diagnosed with cancer six years ago. Through treatment, the disease was in remission for nearly five years.

"It came back with a vengeance last year,” Diane Ulrich, Heidi's mother, recalls. “After we had done chemo and then immunotherapy, none of it was working. It was getting worse."

Heidi White That's when Heidi's doctor recommended hospice care through EveryStep Hospice.

"They came in and that was a very wonderful experience," Diane notes, adding that Heidi wanted to live her final days at home, so Diane and Heidi's identical twin sister Heather made sure that happened.

Served by EveryStep Hospice's Des Moines-based team, Heidi was able to move in with her sister in West Des Moines shortly after she became a patient.

Through EveryStep, the family received more than just care for Heidi at the end of her life; they received support and resources for themselves.

For instance, prior to Heidi's death the family was offered the help of a social worker who could assist them and Heidi as she began her final journey.

"We did take advantage of that, especially Heidi, she had a lot of things she wanted to talk out at the end," Diane says, noting that Heidi has three children she wanted to ensure were taken care of after her passing.

When Heidi passed on June 4, 2019, EveryStep Hospice was there for the family.

"Heather was the one that needed immediate help," Diane says of her other daughter. "Denise (an EveryStep bereavement counselor) came over and sat with her. When we saw how Heather was benefiting, we had Denise come to our place when Heidi's three children were there and we all met together. That was very beneficial."

During their one-on-one meetings with Denise Nahnsen, Diane says the family was able to talk about Heidi and remember how special of a person she was.

"At first it was very quiet," Diane recalls, noting that the family began to meet weekly with Denise. "Little by little they started opening up. It really worked out very nice."

In addition to one-on-one visits, Diane and Heather began attending EveryStep Grief & Loss Services' group support meetings at the Bright Kavanagh Center, 3000 Easton Blvd. in Des Moines.

"It was still very fresh, but it was amazing how so many of the people there had lost people years ago but were still benefited by the group," Diane says.

"As a whole, Heather and I felt that we really appreciated the care and concern, and that there were different programs we could continue with. We didn't feel like it was coming to an end," Diane notes of the support group ending after several weeks.

While Diane and Heather did make the choice to take a break from support group to focus on "what we were going to do with our lives at this point," she knows the door is always open if she would like to continue in that setting.

"Heather and I have both maintained contact with Denise," Diane says. "She has been so kind and has always invited us to take advantage of what comes along if we want to."

In fact, Denise has continued to support the family through one-on-one visits, specifically with Heidi's 17-year-old daughter.

"Just knowing that is available has been so helpful," Diane notes. "So much of the time we don't know how to approach grief with kids or how to approach it with ourselves."

One suggestion Diane learned during support group was to write a letter to your loved one using your non-dominant hand. It was a surprisingly therapeutic exercise, she notes.

In the end, Diane is thankful EveryStep was there to support her family during and after one of the most difficult experiences.

"I would definitely recommend anyone who has lost a loved one to go," Diane says of EveryStep’s support groups. "It may not be a daughter, maybe it's a mate or whatever the situation might be, the services offer the opportunity for you to relate, if you choose, to your experiences on what you went thought and that you are not alone."

She also reminds others that you don't have to talk when you go to support group.

"You don't have to contribute, but once you avail yourself of that service, you can't keep quiet," Diane says "When you realize there are so many people in your shoes and they are having such a hard time and your compassion goes to them, you start to open up and feel more comfortable."

Diane hopes that her family's grief experience and the resources they were given are things others can also take advantage of.

"I really cannot say enough good things of the resources offered," she says.

Pictured above: Heidi's twin sister, Heather, Diane Ulrich, and Ken Ulrich.

Pictured inset: Heidi White