Grief support group proves valuable - Catholic Courier

Grief support group proves valuable

Slightly more than a year has passed since the death of Margie Terry’s husband, Steve. Since her loss was so heavy, the expression “time heals old wounds” simply isn’t applicable at this point.

“The sadness and the emptiness and the loss don’t disappear,” she remarked.

However, Terry said she is continually uplifted by her grief support-group meetings at St. James Mercy Hospital.

“Everybody there has a significant loss. You can talk about it and not feel uncomfortable, or think that the other people feel uncomfortable,” she said.

The group meets the second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. An evening session, added this past spring, has been so well-received that it was recently increased from once to twice per month — every second and fourth Monday at 7 p.m. Deacon Bob McCormick, facilitator of both the afternoon and evening groups, said the later time slot gives people with day jobs, such as Terry, the chance to attend.

“We started out with one or two coming. Once the word got out, the last time we met we had eight people here,” Deacon McCormick said of the evening get-togethers.

Both groups meet in the hospital chapel. Deacon McCormick said the meetings are open to anybody, noting that “we have a number of people from different denominations.” Their circumstances vary as well: losses that were long ago or recent, and deaths involving a parent, child or spouse.

Though the meetings are supposed to last an hour, Deacon McCormick said that “we go from one-and-a-half to two hours mostly.” Each gathering begins with “first thoughts” — a time reserved for “anything on anyone’s mind they want to talk about,” he said. “Very often that will take up a good 20 or 30 minutes alone.”

Deacon McCormick then quotes from writings that provide insight into grieving. After more discussion, each meeting closes with “good thoughts” during which participants affirm each other, followed by prayer.

Terry noted that the support group is sensitive to the fact that “people might be having good weeks or bad weeks. Deacon Bob is so in tune to people’s needs … sometimes you just sit there and listen, and other times you just want to talk.”

Deacon McCormick said the group promotes an atmosphere of “everybody helping each other out.” This has led Terry to start bringing a good friend who lost her son. She also empathizes with a woman whose husband died three months ago: “You can just see and hear what you went through. Your heart just goes out to her, and you just want to help her.”

Yet Deacon McCormick acknowledged that the group is not for everyone.

“Some people grieve inside, and some people need that comradeship — that talking to people. There are so many different ways of grieving,” he said.

Terry agreed, saying, “A person has got to want to come to a group like (ours) and be part of it.”

St. James Mercy’s grief-support group began several years ago under Sister of St. Joseph Elaine Hollis, the hospital’s full-time chaplain. Deacon McCormick started the evening sessions after becoming a part-time chaplain there this spring upon his retirement from Alfred State College, where he taught business for 33 years. He has served St. James Mercy for two decades as an on-call chaplain, and also is a longtime deacon at Our Lady of the Valley Parish.

Terry, 47, said her own grief can still rise to the surface at any time.

“You don’t know what could set you off; it can just hit you right out of the blue,” she said.

A particularly trying date was July 12, the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. Steve Terry, to whom she was married for nearly 24 years, suffered from cancer for two years.

“You relive the pain and what he went through. It didn’t go away on the 13th of July, the intensity of the loss,” she said.

The support meetings are among a number of coping mechanisms for Terry. She took a big role in the recently held American Cancer Society Relay for Life, walking in the local relay with her two sons, ages 12 and 16, and personally raising close to $3,500. She also is highly involved at Our Lady of the Valley Parish.

“It does help,” Terry said of her activities. “You don’t feel like doing anything a week or two after your significant loss, but you do ease (yourself) into your new normal life, whatever that is. I can just tell you that I take it one day at a time. To look beyond tomorrow is too much for me, too overwhelming. I thank God if I make it through another day.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: All are welcome to attend the grief-support group. The next meeting will be held Monday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. Sessions are held in the chapel of St. James Mercy Hospital, 411 Canisteo St., Hornell. For details, call Deacon Bob McCormick at 607/324-8153 or e-mail him at bmccormick@sjmh.org.

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