By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
For years, Judy Brown was weighed down by the painful burden of the grief from losing many family members.
Her dad died in 1999, her sister in 2001, her mother in 2003 and an uncle in 2005. Her in-laws had passed away, also.
It was almost more than she could bear.
“The loss was overwhelming,” she said, her voice choking. “Losing Mom and Dad so close together. I was so close to them. We were always together on the holidays.
“And when they went – bang, bang, bang – I was devastated, even when I knew they were sick and dying.
“It just about killed me.”
She cried. She was not her cheerful self. She thought about her loved ones.
“Get over it,” she was told. “They’ve been gone such a long time. Move on.”
“My sister was fairly healthy,” she said. “But she got sick and died before my mom. And my mom in October 1998 was told she only had six months to live, and she outlived them all.
“She had cancer. They all had cancer, except for my uncle.”
After her father died, she fell into a deep depression. A doctor prescribed medication, and family and friends helped her get through it.
And then her sister and mom died.
She saw no help, no way to dry her tears, no way to move on with her life.
Then she ran into a friend who had recently lost her husband. To deal with her loss, the friend attended a workshop at her church called “GriefShare.”
“You should go, too,” the friend told Brown. “Just come and sit and listen.”
So she did.
To her surprise and relief, the sessions helped her confront her terrible losses.
“If it hadn’t worked, I probably would have done something terrible,” she said, her voice breaking.
“I felt like I had nothing left, even though I have my husband and two sons and granddaughters. It just about killed me,” she said.
A nurse, she took care of her loved ones 24/7, she said.
“That’s why it was so hard for me. We were all so close.”
It worried those around her that she was still grieving.
“But everybody grieves differently,” she said. “I found out (at GriefShare) that I shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
“They teach you how when you think of your loved ones, to think of something else, like music. I listened to Christian music. And to talk to other Christian people. They can help you.”
She became friends with her fellow GriefShare members.
“Everybody talked and was open about what was going on in their lives. It really helped me, so much so that I thought I could come back and help too.”
“My grief was different,” she said. “Everybody else had someone who had died recently. It had been so many years since my family members died.
“Mine was not a recent loss, but the length of time the person has been gone doesn’t matter.
“My whole life I’ve taken care of my family. I think because I was so close to my family and took care of them 24 hours a day, it was just so devastating.
“When they finally died, even though I was a nurse and knew they were dying, it was hard to go through that.
“I was alone with them when each one of them died. It’s just so hard to sit there and watch somebody take their last breath,” she said. She stopped, took a deep, shaky breath and continued, her voice breaking.
“My kids all said, ‘Why do you have to cry every time we say something about Grandma or Grandpa?’ They said I shouldn’t be crying any more. They said I needed to stop.
“I loved them,” she said. “I told them that everybody is different. Everybody grieves in their own time. Everybody deals with it their way.
“When I was at GriefShare, that helped me.”
Each session addresses a different aspect of the grieving process.
“We have the ice breaker. At the beginning, you talk about what you’ve done this week. We smile, joke and talk. You can talk about your family members, something like that.
“We watch videos, break up into groups, and talk about the video and ask questions. You can share things in your life to help us.”
She’d always been a caring and compassionate nurse who took care of her patients almost like they were family. The family of one patient she’d cared for for over a year gave her a gold-and-crystal angel.
“They said I was her guardian angel,” Brown said. “The more caring and loving you are with your patients, the better they get. Their convalescent time is shorter.”
Her sister had had a stroke years before this. Brown worked at a rehab hospital to learn to care for stroke patients and then would go to her home and work with her.
“She was really bad,” she recalled. “But after a few years, she was able to be by herself again. Then she got cancer and died.
“She had a massive heart attack when she was 37, but she got through that. When she was 59, she was diagnosed with leukemia. They said she had three, six weeks at the most.
“But she said she wanted to make it to her birthday that August. Actually she died in September, in my arms.
“She threw her arms up in the air and said, ‘I’m OK’ and lay back down. I said, ‘I love you’ and she said, ‘I love you, too.’
“That was her last breath.”
Although it’s been rough on her to have been with her loved ones at their last moments, she knows it was good for them for her to be there.
“It helped them. But it’s hard enough seeing them sick. When you get to be very close to them, you’re their last hope. They’re hanging on. They know what’s going to happen and they don’t want to be alone.
“And I was there for them.”
As heartsick as she’s felt, her faith has never wavered, she said.
“My faith is strong. People who don’t have faith, I don’t know how they do it. It’s hard enough when you have faith and you know your loved ones are in heaven with the angels.
“And you pray for them and you know that you will see them again. You will be up there with them, too.”
Starting March 3, LIFE United Methodist Church is offering GriefShare, a 13-week support group to help people deal with grief.
Long after a loved one has passed on, the deep, abiding sorrow known as grief remains. There is more to death than the person dying. The entire family is left behind to process the death.
Lives are left disturbed and broken after the loss. GriefShare offers help to those who have been affected by the loss. Being able to share feelings of grief with other people may be really comforting. Through video presentations of experts sharing grief counseling and through the support of group discussion, this program offers a good stepping stone to recovery.
Sessions are scheduled every Monday at 6 p.m. at the Disciple House at LIFE United Methodist Church, 1564 Mary Lou Retton Drive, Fairmont.
For more information or to register, call 304-363-2104 or 304-363-4657.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.