The next 13-week session of GriefShare beginning this week at CrossRoads Community Church offers a video-driven support group for those who have lost a loved one.
"We come alongside those who are grieving to offer hope and encouragement," said Danielle Mixon, GriefShare facilitator who first took part in a GriefShare series of classes when her mother passed away.
GriefShare is a support group that meets weekly and is a worldwide program held in over 12,000 churches across the globe. This is the seventh cycle of classes that CrossRoads has sponsored.
Pastor Janet Swanson, wife of CrossRoads Community Church Senior Pastor Cary Swanson, introduced the support group to CrossRoads after the death of her parents.
Swanson referenced 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and said, "People think Christians aren't supposed to grieve like the world, but they forget to add the part that Christians grieve with hope. 'Hope' is the key word."
Mary Sue Smith attended the GriefShare sessions at CrossRoads after losing her mother, husband and mother-in-law during a three-year time period.
Prior to her mother's sudden passing as a healthy 97-year-old, Mary Sue and her husband, Bob, received the devastating news in February 2007 that Bob had an untreatable lung disease.
Smith said it was the first time she realized grief could precede death.
"I started grieving in 2007 because of his prognosis," she said.
Smith became the caregiver for her husband, who was on oxygen, as well as for her mother and mother-in-law.
"I hardly had time to grieve my mother's death before we basically relocated to Duke for two years for my husband's eventual two lung transplants," she said.
Bob Smith passed away in January 2015, and his mother followed in October of the same year.
Mary Sue Smith said she's learned so much from the GriefShare classes that she took part in during the session.
"I didn't miss a single class; it was helping me that much," she said. "To be with other Christians with shared experiences — and no two experiences are the same — it validated my feelings. You have a kinship with others with a shared experience.
"You share grief across the board and have many of the same experiences and feelings, even if you deal with it in different ways."
Smith elaborated and said that some in the class experienced a time of shutting down.
"My way of coping, however, was to stay busy with lots of projects and other things," she said. "My grief energized me. I kept busy."
Smith said she learned a new word in the class: ambush.
"I had experienced it, but didn't know it had a name," she said. "It's when grief sneaks up on you unexpectedly — like when you're walking down a grocery store aisle and see your husband's favorite snack, one that you didn't particularly care for, and know that you'll never have the need to buy that snack again."
And in an opposite manner, some visuals bring about happy, comforting memories. For Smith, it's a pair of western boots displayed on her hearth.
"Bob was a preacher's son who always wanted to live on a farm with horses and cows, which is what we did. He was a cowboy and wore boots all the time, including to church," she said.
Smith now keeps his church boots on the hearth and said it inspires her.
"Bob never gave up, even with carrying around two bottles of oxygen everywhere we went. Bob did what he did while wearing oxygen, and the boots remind me to get up and keep going."
Smith said she also reminds herself often, "Bob's not here to see this, so I want to live it to the fullest for both of us."
Registration is ongoing for the GriefShare session that beings Thursday evening, Aug. 2, and will meet for 13 weeks at CrossRoads Community Church from 6–7:30 p.m. Mixon points out that participants are encouraged to join now; however, because each video-driven session is self-contained, anyone can join and attend any session during the cycle.
A $15 registration fee covers the workbook used during the week between the meetings, and childcare is available for participants. Call (912) 536-8156 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to register.