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My health story: Living with loss

Emily Leland By Emily Leland

From the series My health story: Living with loss.

I met Rick at the high school dance and kind of caught each other’s eyes across the dance floor. You know Rick was indeed the love of my life. 16 when I met him, until he passed and I was 49.

You grieve and you cry and it stops you dead in your tracks. The hardest thing is after you lose somebody is people avoid it like the plague. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do.   

I remember calling into Aetna, and they were offering health coaches, and connected with somebody by the name of Carol. She just was always there, consistently. We were connecting about so many things. The grief, the stress, the challenges of parenting alone. It just means the world to me.   

Walking on the beach is my favorite place to walk because I look for sea glass. And it can’t be sea glass until it gets into the ocean and hits a lot of rocks and bangs against the sand and the beach. Then all of a sudden it smooths out. I like to think that it’s a gift from Rick.   

My three boys are definitely my anchors. My youngest said to me, “Ma, don’t just get out of bed each day, get out of bed happy.”     

Even though I don’t have it the easy way, you don’t give up. 

Cheryl Cianfaglione is a real member who’s given us permission to use her story.

After a long battle with a rare form of leukemia, Cheryl Cianfaglione’s high-school sweetheart and husband of 23 years passed away. At 49, she found herself lost without Rick, her best friend and father to her three boys. In the wake of his death, the grief that overwhelmed Cheryl started taking a toll on her physical health and emotional well-being. And then, as she puts it, “Carol found me.”

During her darkest days, Cheryl received a letter offering Aetna members access to a holistic wellness coach. These coaches typically provide advice and support around specific health goals, such as stress reduction or weight management. Eager for advice on how to get her health back on track, Cheryl called the number on the letter and was eventually connected with Carol.

From their first call, Carol and Cheryl had a special connection. “Cheryl’s grief was so deep. She cried through our entire first call and I just let her talk,” says Carol DeNomme, MSW, LCSW. “She seemed like she needed to unburden herself.”

Carol and Cheryl continue to have monthly coaching sessions. Carol has offered Cheryl guidance on everything from healthy eating habits to staying present for her sons, and directed her to other resources available through her health care plan. “Carol just is always there, consistently,” Cheryl says. “We connect about so many things — the grief, the stress, the challenges of parenting alone. It just means the world to me.”

Cheryl’s journey to discovering joy again is ongoing — and looks different every day. Often, it’s as simple as finding a piece of sea glass on her daily walk along the beach.

“I feel as though I have been on her journey with her,” said Carol. “She has been through all of the stages of grief, and I see her gradually getting closer to the acceptance stage. Her perseverance and determination to live again stand out. In her job as a nurse, Cheryl works so hard to help others. I want to do the same for her.”

Learn more about Cheryl’s health hero Carol DeNomme.

About the author

Emily Leland is a writer and marketing professional living in Charleston, SC. Her goal is more exercise, less caffeine and finding balance as a working mom.