Sunday Seniors: Aging Resource Center Chaplain Helps With Challenges of Change and Loss

  • (Multiple values), ID's and Releases to come from Caroline Moore.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Lebanon — After selling her marketing business in 2002, Jeanne Childs was looking for something else to do. She took a job at a supermarket passing out food samples, but “it wasn’t heart-to-heart,” she said.

Then, in 2004, she entered the chaplain training program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“I was totally hooked,” the Hanover resident said. “I really wanted to help people. Serving the people and the planet is what I want to do.”

After completing her training over a five-year period, Childs joined the then newly formed Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center as a chaplain fellow and then as staff chaplain. In January 2009, she began leading support groups there.

“I’m a geriatric myself,” she said. “I’m at that stage of life and I’m aware it’s a stage that’s full of loss and change.”

Childs, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy from the University of San Diego, holds a master’s degree in theology, spirituality and interreligious dialogue from St. Michael’s College in Burlington, is board certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, and is a member of the Spiritual Care Association. Her work involves providing counsel to people of all religious backgrounds — or no religion at all.

“Everybody has an inner being,” Childs said. “There are three things that are so important to us as human beings: meaning, purpose and connection. And connection means people.”

One of nine chaplains at DHMC, Childs leads bereavement, change and loss, and caregiving support groups, in addition to providing one-on-one counseling in person or by telephone.

All the programs are free. “We want to make it accessible for people at all economic levels,” she said.

Childs works to guide people through life changes, such as losing a spouse or partner, the diagnosis of a chronic or fatal illness, children moving away, retirement, and feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“When you’re older it is harder to get over some things,” Childs said, “particularly when you build a whole life with someone, particularly when it’s a spouse.”

There’s a sense of loss when people enter retirement. “Who are you when you don’t have a job?” she asked. And those who become caregivers to a family member or spouse can find that experience challenging. “That’s a whole new career, not always so easy,” Childs said.

Isolation can be especially difficult for seniors living in a rural community such as the Upper Valley.

“There’s distance,” Childs said. If a senior citizen is unable to drive, for example, it can be hard to access the programs that can provide interaction and a relief from loneliness.

Those feelings “really can fester inside you,” she said.

The support groups give people an opportunity to discuss those feelings with others who are experiencing them and to learn coping skills.

Sometimes, she said, people just need someone to talk to “to get hold of the knot inside you and just untangle it.”

And Childs is there to listen.

Editor’s note: Childs is available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. She can be reached at 603-653-3461 or by email at Rita.J.Childs@hitchcock.org. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.