Helping others cope with loss
Though she carved out some time to talk on the west end of campus on a gorgeous, serene summer day, it’s clear that Fanny Maizel would much rather be actually doing her work than talking about it. But she remains gracious, emanating tranquility, even as the conversation turns to deeply serious matters.
“No one should die alone, no one should die with pain,” she says, her eyes direct, unflinching. “That is the basis of what hospice is.” Maizel — who was a double major (business and psychology) for her undergraduate degree from USD in 2002 — is talking about her practicum work with San Diego Hospice, a required component of the master’s in counseling degree she’s working on.
While this is decidedly a different direction than the business career she embarked upon just after graduation, Maizel is crystal-clear that she is now on the right path. “I was a lot more interested in the psychology aspect of my work in the business world than the actual financial side of things,” she admits.
As part of her program, which is offered through USD’s School of Leadership and Education Studies, the practicum lets Maizel do what she loves best; interact with clients. “It’s a lot of grief work,” she explains. “I meet with clients who are at a stage of life where they’re going to have to redefine who they are, who their relationships are, while dealing with major loss.”
In a culture that is often fearful of death, work like Maizel’s is crucial. Her clients have usually lost or will soon lose a loved one. While some may think such work sounds depressing, she finds tremendous value for everyone involved. “Initially, I was worried it was all going to be about death, but we all go through loss, whether it be a divorce or the loss of what you know and what you’re used to,” she says.
Strategies to help people cope include support groups and one-on-one counseling. “There’s a great family group that meets every Tuesday night called ‘Grief Street,’” Maizel explains. “They have pizza for the first half hour and then everyone gets split up into their age groups. The needs of a 10- or 11-year-old are very different from the needs of someone who now has to adapt to being a single parent while dealing with their own grief and raising young kids.”
Every week, Maizel and her fellow students — who work at sites ranging from outpatient psychiatry at UCSD to Catholic Charities to the Veterans Administration — gather with a faculty member and discuss the issues that have come up during the week. “With our peers is the only place we can talk about our clients,” she explains. “Over the past two years, I’ve gotten to know people in my program on a very personal level. There have been a lot of laughs and a lot of tears.”
Perhaps of deepest lasting resonance is the diversity she’s encountered along the way. “Understanding how different cultures view death — and how traditions and religious backgrounds play a huge factor in how we cope with loss — has really made this work all the more rewarding,” she says.