By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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After heartbreaking loss, woman opens herself up to help others

Photo by Chuck Kirman / Ventura County Star: Sarah Horton, with Gabe Teran, is a co-facilitator for the Hospice of Camarillo's young-adult grief group.

May 7, 2008/Ventura County Star

Ventura County Star

Sarah Horton was 18 when her mother had a heart attack and slipped into a coma, and then died three years later.

Today, the 26-year-old Moorpark woman is a co-facilitator for the Hospice of Camarillo's young-adult grief group, a support network for teens and young adults 15 to 25 who have lost someone close to them.

"I was initially apprehensive talking to a group of strangers, but everyone was really warm and funny and willing to just listen without being judgmental about the situation," recalled Horton, who attended group meetings for three years before she was offered the position as co-facilitator.

"Since I had been a participant with the group for so long, it was very easy for me to transition into," said Horton, who also works with abused and neglected children as a youth development specialist in the shelter program for Casa Pacifica, also in Camarillo.

"I know how much having people who were wiling to listen to me helped me, so I was grateful to be a part of that for others," Horton said. "I encourage people to talk but try not to push them too hard because everyone reveals things at their own pace. I have found that the more you listen, the more people are willing to open up and talk about their experiences."

Horton is a role model because, while going through her own grief, she was able to finish school, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology in 2007 from CSU Channel Islands; she also works in a field that can be very sad at times, said Sue Hughes of Oxnard, facilitator for the young-adults grief group, which meets weekly, from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, at Camarillo Hospice.

"Sarah is a positive, warm, kind and caring young woman. She doesn't just listen; she hears what others are saying — something all of us find so very refreshing," said Hughes, who lost her 18-year-old son and only child, Raymond, in a car accident in 1998.

Sole facilitator on occasion

As co-facilitator, Horton is responsible for taking attendance, keeping the records up to date and being there when Hughes must travel for work.

"Sarah is the sole facilitator when I am out of town," said Hughes, a legislative analyst for the county of Ventura. "And while Camarillo Hospice entrusts me as facilitator with carrying out their mission, I could not do this without having a dependable, capable co-facilitator."

Horton also is an asset because she puts a young face on the position, Hughes added.

"She has been and is where many of them have been in their grief," she said. "With grief, I believe you have to have lived it to truly, truly get it. Sarah absolutely gets it."

Horton is always encouraging the people around her to look at things in a positive light, said 25-year-old Gabe Teran of Oxnard, who joined the grief group in 2007 after the death of his great-grandfather in 2005.

"She has also shown the younger group members that in spite of losing someone very close to us, we are all still capable of grieving in a healthy way and continuing on with our lives through work, higher education and positive social connections," Teran said.

Michael Pena, 24, of Oxnard joined the group eight years ago following the loss of his father when he was 1 and his mother when he was 15.

"Sarah has shared her life troubles with me, allowing me to open up," Pena said. "She makes coping with life trauma a lot easier. I love her and would help her in any way."

Sixteen-year-old Erin Maloney of Camarillo started attending meetings 18 months ago.

"My friend's mother died, and I came to support her, but I started going for me after my grandmother died," Erin said. "Sarah is very smart and never gives in. She sticks to her morals. If I ever need help, she's there."

Offering a safe place to grieve

For Horton, the support group has taught her how to be a better listener.

"It still to this day helps me deal with my grief about my mom," she said. "Being able to deal with that grief has made me a stronger person."

She hopes to continue making a difference by giving others a place where they feel safe to talk about what happened to them. "I hope they learn that grief is an ongoing process but that they can come to a point in their life where they can be happy again."

The most remarkable thing about Horton is that, out of all her sadness and loss, she has learned to open her heart again, Hughes said.

"I know that Sarah misses her mom very, very much, and her mom's death is what brought her to us," Hughes said. "We are all so blessed to have her in our lives."

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