The “O” Award
- The "O" Award is given to any person or group that makes their community better in any aspect.
- This year's winner is Maureen Scahill Cantrella of San Diego, California! Read her story below.
Well, my journey started back in the late 80’s. I lost a friend to cancer and couldn't understand why I felt such pain in my heart. I decided to pursue a master’s in psychology at Chapman University (I already had a BS in political science/criminal justice from Kean College in NJ now known as Kean University).
That proved to be a bust since I had only one course in psychology. I withdrew from Chapman and signed up and took every single psych course at Mesa Community College and wound up doing a year's independent study on the level of grief a person experiences on the death of a friend versus a family member. That involved not only book research but several interviews
I did but by far the interview with the most impact was with the chaplain for the AIDS Foundation. He said for a gay man to lose his partner was like losing a spouse (keep in mind this was during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and before gay marriage was allowed). What struck me was when he said the steps that were taken by the parents of the deceased essentially depriving the surviving partner in any say about funeral services; taking the body "home" for burial (usually being out of state); having the cause of death changed from an AIDS related death to something else; evicting the surviving partner from their shared premises; fighting the surviving partner over the estate even when there was a will. Painful and heart-wrenching.
Another issue was that several of the people the chaplain counseled were deserted by their family, friends and even lovers once they were diagnosed with AIDS and many of them died alone in the hospital. I decided to join the Buddy Program at the AIDS Foundation where the volunteer could choose to be a Buddy to a newly diagnosed person with HIV or be a Buddy to someone who made the transition from HIV to an AIDS diagnosis or a person at the latter end of their life cycle. I chose to be a Buddy to those at the latter end of their life cycle. During my time as a Buddy, I was a buddy to three gay men all of whom died within months of our meeting.
I went to the AIDS bereavement group at the Foundation after losing each buddy realizing the necessity to mourn and remember. I went back to Chapman to work on my masters and did my internship at AFSD where I was a case manager with a varying number of clients. I was asked if I wanted to facilitate the grief group ay AFSD. I did for a few several years. In the interim, San Diego Hospice started their own HIV/AIDS related grief group. I took their training and led that group for approx. 6 years and only left after my mother died. Thereafter, San Diego Hospice decided to eliminate their volunteer facilitators and go with licensed counselors. Soon thereafter for various reasons both the AIDS Foundation and San Diego Hospice closed their doors.
I became a volunteer at the Center primarily working on mailings. At a volunteer meeting we were asked to sign up if we wanted to facilitate a support group and if so, which one. Out of all the volunteers present, I was the only one who wanted to facilitate the grief group. At that time, the Center's grief and loss group was a closed one and led by a licensed counselor. You had to be interviewed to join the group; once accepted, the group met ten times; but if you missed a single session, you were out; and the sessions were limited to a certain number of participants.
When I interviewed for the facilitator's position, I was told the Center wanted to have an open (versus a closed group) so anyone could join the group at any time. I took over the group in August 2016 and went from a twice a month grief group to four times a month as well as having an additional group session during both thanksgiving week and Christmas week. I believe the grief group is the only support group that meets four times a month and has two extra sessions during the holidays.