Dr. Donna Bacon got into the field of grief because of her own personal losses, and she shared a moment with Open to Hope’s executive director Dr. Heidi Horsley. Today, she’s a lecturer at Nassau Community College. “When I was four years old, my mom died of breast cancer—she was 34.” Bacon and her twin sister spent the next 12 years living with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and in that timeframe subsequently lost all of them. By the time she was 16, Bacon was very familiar with loss. Her uncle was murdered, one aunt died at 26 of HIV/AIDS and cancer was also very prevalent. As a teen, Bacon found herself on her own but didn’t see any type of counselor until high school.
“I struggled for a very long time,” she says. At 16, she went to college after graduating early. She worked at a crisis counseling line, studied diligently and recalls thinking, “Wow, I’m here in college. I didn’t have sheets on my bed…my mother never got to do this.” She moved forward, dedicating her degree to her family members who had passed and supported her. Plus, Bacon took on the mother role for her twin sister who grieved in a very different way. She discovered that her purpose was likely to live her best life for the loved ones she had lost.
A Dedicated Life
“I used the pain to propel me forward,” she says. A course, Grieving and Dying in America, changed her life. This college course told Bacon her feelings were normal. Particularly in the African American community, Bacon points out that people don’t talk about names, loss and grieving after a loss. “That led me to come into this field.” She’s now a licensed, clinical social worker and has numerous related master’s degrees and a PhD from Columbia University in Human Behavior Studies.
She works closely with those in the grieving process and is happy to connect with anyone who wants to work with her.