Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Program helping participants cope with grief

Tucked away in the corner of  the 88 Dip each Monday afternoon is a group of ladies who shares a bond they would rather not have in common. But eavesdropping from a nearby table in the close quarters of the restaurant, you might be surprised just how they came together.

“It’s just been a blessing,” Dorothy Hobbs said of the support and friendships she has gained through her participation in a biblically-based program geared to help people cope with the loss of a loved one. “I couldn’t get through anything. Then I found people who understand what I feel and no one else can.”

Hobbs’ husband Mike died two years ago. Soon after, she found every-day life difficult to muddle through. But those dark days began to clear when she joined the GriefShare program offered by Crooked Creek Baptist Church. No, she’s not over the loss, but she and the other women participating in the weekly sessions are learning to better cope with the pain. The Monday meals they share together can get pretty rowdy with a lot of good times.

“It just helps that we learn to laugh again,” explained Peggy Ritch, whose husband Jerry died in December 2014. “But with these ladies, they’ve all been there. They understand.”

Ritch said the seven other women currently participating in GriefShare are about the only other people she feels comfortable enough to still cry around over Jerry’s death.

“In other settings, you try to hold back,” she said.

She explained that crying around their children who also suffered a loss can be difficult for a parent grieving over the death of a longtime companion. The pain is just different.

“I try to hold back, because he was their father,” Ritch said, “and they’re hurting too.”

Of course, GriefShare is not solely for women. The group led by Donna Girten, the wife of Crooked Creek pastor Mark Girten, just happens to currently have no men enrolled. She said over the course of the year-plus the program has been offered locally, there have been male participants.

It’s also not exclusive to losing a spouse. Girten, who suffered at the hands of an abusive husband in a previous marriage, is deeply emotional when she speaks of her late-grandmother who helped her through a very difficult period. And a few years ago, Nora Metheny lost a male companion with whom she had built a special relationship.

“No loss is any different,” Girten said.

GriefShare meets at the church at 11:30 a.m. Though held at the Baptist church, the Bible-based program is non-denominational. In fact, the eight women who gather at the Dip after sessions to laugh, talk about cooking and hairstyles and maybe even share the latest from the grapevine represent five different community churches of varying denominations.

“It brightens up my Mondays when I’m with this group of women.” Metheny offered over the din of a busy lunch crowd.

When the cards and flowers have stopped and everyone else seems to be going on with their lives, many are still left with crippling, lingering grief. The aim of GriefShare is to build a network of support among participants and offer paths to getting life back on track.

“It’s so much more than a class that meets for 13 weeks,” said Girten, adding that new participants can come in at any time and repeat enrollees are always welcome. “I can’t imagine being without these ladies.”

There is a $30 cost for materials, but Girten said there are scholarships available. She added that no one in need of GriefShare, a worldwide support group, will be turned away if they simply cannot afford the fees. They will find a way to cover the cost, she said.

For those just joining GriefShare, the first meeting is the most difficult.

“The first time you go, you are forced to face reality,” said Linda Cook, who thought she was coping well with the loss last year of her husband Virgil until the days apart grew to be too much. “Many just cry the first time, the whole time.”

Girten said walking through the door for the initial gathering, indeed, is the hardest step.

The women who share such similarities on the surface, each take away something different every Monday. There is no single recipe for dealing with grief.

“Every individual has to cope in their own way,” Cook said.”

At meetings, the group watches a video and discusses a different issue or challenge.

“It’s about sharing experiences, and it’s helped me out more than I expected,” said Reta Conger, still fresh off of losing her husband Pat in March. “I wondered, does the way I’m feeling just happen to me, does it happen to anyone else. I’ve learned, yes, it does.”

Last week was a particularly emotional session to get through.

“We each struggled today,” Girten said while waiting for lunch to arrive at the table, “and they need to understand this is going to happen.”

“I still have bad days,” said Linda Morris, hurting over her husband Joe who died almost four years ago.

In 2007, Mabel Campbell lost her husband Archie. Just months ago, she thought she was simply volunteering to help Girten organize GriefShare, but she fast became a member of the group.

“I thought I was over it, but I wasn’t,” she said. “It’s helped me to express my feelings by being around other people with the same experience.”

The support participants share goes far beyond Mondays. Each woman said she feels like she can pick up the phone and call any one of the other women when they need an ear.

“Everybody cares about everyone else,” Campbell said.

“I think we’ve built a family,” Girten added.

GriefShare even travels together. Recently, Girten, Morris and Conger returned from a mission trip to Fort Worth, Texas. While there, they returned a favor to Springdale Baptist Church who had sent their own mission team months ago to help renovate Crooked Creek Church.

Reaching out for help can be difficult at first. After rejecting repeated invitations to join GriefShare from her friend Ritch, Cook finally relented. Now, she cannot imagine life without the sorority that has emerged.

“We all believe in the love Jesus has given us, and we’re all here to help others,” Cook said. “We all rely on each other, right ladies?”

Around the table, seven heads nodded yes in unison.

To join or learn more about GriefShare, contact Girten at (270) 969-8553.