Doris Toothman

Doris Toothman attends Willow Tree Baptist Church in Farmington, where her mom started as a new bride after coming here from Germany as a Catholic.

FAIRMONT — Grief is a virtually inevitable part of life.

When help is needed, don’t hesitate to ask.

That’s the philosophy of the GriefShare program offered at LIFE United Methodist Church, 1564 Mary Lou Retton Drive in Fairmont. The next 20-session program, with sessions being held 6-8 p.m. Mondays, begins March 7.

GriefShare is promoted as “a loving, caring support group to walk with you through your grief. We will be here for you so you do not have to be alone in your pain. GriefShare will teach you much about grief and the emotions you may experience and how to deal with them in various situations.”

Doris Toothman, a lifelong resident of Katy who remained in the community following her marriage to husband Ron, has been through the program on three occasions.

“This whole thing with GriefShare has really helped me because when my dad (Jack Leeper) died in 2008, we didn’t really grieve my dad because there was my mom,” Doris said. “We had to take care of her. She’s in the homeplace by herself. You’re taking care of her, and you’re not really thinking, ‘My dad died.’

“One great thing about our family is we talked about my dad. You miss him. ... Some people just ignore them, and they don’t want to talk about it. We talked about it. We laughed at the stories and told stories about my dad. Christmases went on and everything was fine.”

In the spring of 2014, it was clear that her mom (Erika Leeper) had serious health problems. She had property in Germany and wanted to go there to sell it along with Doris, her sister Sheila and brother Bill.

Doris could not go because she and Ron were scheduled to go to Green Lakes, Wisconsin, for a mission summit.

A mass was found on Erika’s lung before the trip to Germany, but she was cleared to make the trip with Sheila and Bill.

“When she got over there, she got deathly ill, and they realized she was full of cancer,” Doris said. “She never got to make it back home.”

She was cremated and brought back.

“Once that happened, I still was OK because my mom was a Christian and I knew where she was, and I was great,” Doris said. “My brother was having some problems, and he told me about GriefShare. Rita Veasey had started this program, and he thought we should go.”

In the fall of 2014, Doris went.

“During that time, there were people who would cry and be upset,” she remembered. “I’d keep thinking, ‘Your loved one is in heaven. This is OK.’ I’m strong.

“Christmas came, and I realized then that I had never got to say goodbye to my mom. Things were starting to fall apart for me.”

At Christmas, her son and daughter-in law, Jeffrey and Stephanie, made Doris a little box with the music to “Silent Night” in German on the outside. It includes a recording of her mom singing “Silent Night” in German.

“I thought, ‘OK, I have my mom with me,’” Doris said. “I always have that. Any time I feel sad, I can push that button.”

In 2015, the decision was made to sell the home where Doris grew up with her family.

“That’s when I fell apart,” Doris said. “That’s where I grew up. It was really bad for me. Here I am. I’m healing with the fact that my mom is gone and I’m healing with my family, but now I’ve got to heal from my home, my home of my youth.”

In the fall, they had backed away from the sale of the home, and Doris returned to GriefShare.

“They really helped me to realize that my home was a place that I grew up in — and I have memories there,” Doris said. “As long as I have those memories, everything is going to be OK. God’s going to take care of me and my family, and everything is going to be OK.

“My second GriefShare, I really, really thought that everything is good.”

Doris attends Willow Tree Baptist Church in Farmington, where her mom started as a new bride after coming here from Germany as a Catholic.

“She was growing up in that church along with me as a young child,” Doris said. “We grew up in church together. We did everything together. We went to women’s meetings together. We went to Wednesday night Bible study together. We’d go down the road, Ron and I, stop, pick my mom up and off to church we would go.”

Doris said she was “having a meltdown with being in church. We had homecoming in August, and I just fell apart because my mom wasn’t there.”

She returned to GriefShare for a third time.

“That’s when it finally clicked to me that no matter what, I’m going to be OK because of the memories that I have that my mom and my dad gave to me, the upbringing that they gave me,” Doris said. “GriefShare just showed me that there is more to life than sitting here worrying about suffering because someone is gone, making myself feel like, ‘Woe is me. It’s all about me.’ It isn’t.

“When you’re in GriefShare and you’re sitting there and you see other people who will say, ‘I lost a child. I lost my husband. I lost my mom and my dad.’ We don’t rate our griefs. Our griefs are not rated. You have a closeness with each person that you say, ‘They’ve lost someone, and they’re going to make it. I’ve lost someone, and I’m going to make it.’”

“I don’t know what I would have done without her going to GriefShare,” Ron said. “We couldn’t do it ourselves. I saw a 180-degree turn for her with this.”

The GriefShare fee is $20, which includes a workbook. Scholarships are available.

Participants share a meal before each session.

“We laugh and we talk,” Doris said. “That’s the other thing I think helped. You didn’t go in and just sit down at a meeting and get started. You fellowshipped before you actually went in to the main meeting.”

They remain close.

“You may have lost one family member, but you gain 10,” Ron said. “People need to learn to grieve in a positive way.”

Email Cliff Nichols at cnichols@timeswv.com.

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