By LYDIA BERGLAR
On July 15, Grace Community Church in Trenton is hosting a grief support group using a program called GriefShare. The group is focused on people who have lost a spouse and want to join with others who are grieving.
July’s topic is “Loss of a Spouse,” and a second event is planned for December 2 about “Surviving the Holidays.” If there is enough interest, the church plans to start a 12-week group in January 2024.
Hutch Garmany, pastor of Grace Community, explained, “We came to know about GriefShare through Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church (LMPC). They use this ministry to care for people in their community, and when a member in our church unexpectedly lost her husband, we realized that (in addition to all of the relationships at our church) she needed a group to specifically help her process loss and grief. As we looked around, we couldn’t find anything like this being offered in our own community.”
The member is Ann Brown, who lost her husband, Bobby, on August 8, 2022. With tears in her voice, Brown said, “Losing Bobby devastated me, humbled me, and broke my heart. When he first passed away, I didn’t know what to do. How am I supposed to feel? What am I supposed to do? I felt like I was alone in the world. I never dreamed I’d want to go to a grief group, but then I went to the LMPC group.”
Brown explained that grieving is highly individual and does not follow a set timeline. “Grieving is a long process. Nobody deals with this the same way. You can’t say, ‘You’re grieving wrong.’ It’s just what you’ve got to do for yourself.”
For example, Bobby’s recliner remains a reserved spot in Brown’s home. She can’t bear sitting in the chair or having anyone else sit in Bobby’s spot. However, a friend from the grief group told Ann that she likes to sit in her husband’s recliner because she feels close to him there. The two women grieve uniquely, but they grieve together through the group.
Brown said, “By going to the grief group, I realized that there are many people who are in my shoes. They understand how hard it hurts. When you hear what other people are thinking and how they’re getting through it, you realize that you’re not the only one who is suffering.”
Larry Moore II of Moore Funeral Home also noted that people grieve differently, saying, “We believe in a holistic approach to serving those experiencing grief and can provide resources on a case-by-case basis since no two people grieve the same. However, funeral directors are not licensed therapists. We can counsel the grieving, provide additional resources, and recommend professional help when necessary.”
Garmany explained that GriefShare includes take-home reading, short video clips, and sharing. Two facilitators who have walked through loss themselves and have been trained through the ministry lead the group. According to Garmany, “They’re not teaching; they just facilitate to make sure people are being cared for, being heard, and feel safe to share.”
Brown recalled her experience at LMPC’s group. “Everybody’s introduced, and if you want to share, you can. If you’re not able to, you don’t have to. We watched some videos. Then we shared. We cried, we hugged.”
Ed Psalter, a retired Baptist minister, leads this ministry at LMPC, and he will be one of the facilitators in July.
While the program is faith based, it is open to people of all beliefs. According to Brown, “The program’s not about you needing to be a Christian. It’s about two humans sharing the hardest part of their life.”
Garmany added, “If someone is not a believer, they are certainly welcome and will be helped by the class because it talks about all of the emotional aspects and process of grief, but it is a Christian program, and each of the meetings includes biblical teaching.”
Brown appreciates that the group doesn’t push solutions, moving on, or following a set timeline. She says, “You can’t fix death and loss. In my opinion, you never get over losing your spouse; you learn to live with it. I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed had it not been for my family, my church family, and people at the grief group.”
From the perspective of Moore Funeral Home, physical presence is important during grief. Moore said, “When a community member passes away, we see an outpouring of support to the family members in the form of a dish prepared, a prayer sent up, personalized flowers or gifts, and most importantly, the physical/emotional support that can only be provided by being present at a visitation or funeral service.”
The first Dade County GriefShare group will meet at 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on July 15 at Grace Community: 4355 Highway 136. There is no fee, but please let the church know if you plan to attend so that they have enough materials. Register by calling Joanna Rogers at 678-332-1024 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Garmany explained that our culture in America does not handle death well, saying, “Almost every other culture in the history of the world has had better resources for living with the reality of death and loss. Ours is pretty unique in that it’s all about looking young, being healthy, having experiences, good feelings, material things, and maximizing personal happiness now. Because of that, there’s not an acknowledgement of the reality of death and loss.”
In his pastoral work, Garmany finds that people want to jump past grief. “They want to celebrate life, but they don’t know how to mourn the loss and sit in the pain. I think people want to distract themselves from the reality of death – their own and that of those they love.”
Moore also touched on this, saying, “As funeral professionals, we see a bit of work to do in this particular area. Death denialism shows itself in various ways and usually manifests as humor masking the discomfort via corny euphemisms. (Think, ‘I bet people are just dying to see you…Business must be dead…’ and so many more come to mind). We don’t like to think about our own death or the death of those we love and care about. That’s human nature.”
Funeral professionals also must grapple with the funerals of their neighbors and friends. Moore said, “Oftentimes, those we serve are community members who we knew intimately, who we shared laughs and tears with, who we watched grow up or those who watched us grow up. We cannot remove ourselves from the broader community because those on our team are the broader community.”
Garmany read a portion of Tim Keller’s book, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.” Keller writes, “In medieval Europe, approximately one in every five infants died before their first birthday. Only half of all children survived to the age of ten…Life for our ancestors was filled with far more suffering than ours is, and yet we have innumerable diaries, journals, and historical documents that reveal that they took that hardship and grief in a far better stride than we do.”
Garmany elaborated, “Other cultures had grand narratives about the meaning of life being bigger than your personal happiness.” He then returned to Keller’s quote: “Modern western culture is different. In the secular view, the material world is all that there is, and so the meaning of life is to have the freedom to choose the life that makes you most happy…In this approach to life, suffering should be avoided at almost any cost or minimized to the greatest degree possible.”
Garmany said that grief is an important theme in the Bible. “Half of the Psalms are about lament. There’s a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations that’s all about what to do with pain and grief. The Bible has enormous resources for how we feel it, how we grieve it, how we bring it to God, and where we find hope in the midst of it.”
According to Garmany, funeral services are important. “Part of what we want to do is remember someone, celebrate who they were, celebrate what they meant to us, and give thanks to God for who they were and for their life. That’s an important part of grieving, but I see a tendency to want to keep it positive, avoiding the reality that faces us all in loss and death. The Bible sees death as something that brings wisdom. You realize this life is really short and if your hopes are based in this life, those are not very sturdy hopes.”
Garmany concluded, “Death is like the smelling salts of life. It wakes you up out of the deception that this life will last forever. Our world says, ‘Spend that time on more good experiences, good feelings, and good things.’ The Bible says, ‘Spend that time on the things that are eternal.’”