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Counseling program offers hope to those struggling through grief

 

By Susan Shinn For The Salisbury Post

 

CHINA GROVE — Within a 10-month span, Norma Honeycutt lost both her parents, and her brother took his own life.

“We just went through one thing after another,” Norma says.

She also became an empty-nester as the last of her five children left home. She continued to work full-time as executive director of Partners in Learning, but she soon started experiencing memory problems.

“I thought I was going crazy,” Norma admits. “I couldn’t keep it all together.”

And she was angry. But she had no one upon whom to vent her anger. Husband Mark thought it was just the normal ups and downs of grief.

Norma, however, was convinced she had either early onset Alzheimer’s or a brain tumor. She finally told her two sisters the truth.

“I am beyond sad,” she said. “I am very angry. I’m hurt. I’m only functioning, and going through the motions of life.”

Her sister Julie told her it sounded like grief.

“It can’t be grief,” Norma said. “I’m a strong Christian.”

Norma felt that because of this, her grief was a sign of weakness. Then her daughter-in-law experienced a death in her own family, and Norma decided, finally, to accept a friend’s invitation to attend GriefShare.

That friend was Renee Simmons, a fellow member of First Baptist Church in China Grove. Renee lost her father in 1999, and her mother in 2013. After that, she says, she felt like an orphan.

“I was struggling,” Renee says. “There was a void that didn’t go away.”

Renee and Norma attended GriefShare this past fall at a church in Kannapolis. Each session of the 13-week series is self-contained, so folks can join at any time. Participants watch a video together, and then break into small groups for discussion. Renee went through the program twice.

“I knew right away it was a great ministry,” she says.

“Those 13 weeks changed my life,” Norma says.

“I’d never seen anybody so angry,” Renee says of Norma’s attitude at GriefShare. “In the videos, they call grief an unwanted houseguest. She’d had four guests!”

“In the Bible, it says that Jesus wept,” Norma says. “He showed us how to grieve. I just really believe in this program.”

Over time, Renee decided to bring the program to First Baptist Church. She approached the board of deacons, which approved hosting the program.

“I really didn’t have to beg anybody to help,” Renee says. “It just fell right into place.”

Renee and Terry Barringer were Sunday school co-directors, and Terry told Renee she’d help with GriefShare should it come to First Baptist.

Terry’s husband died suddenly 10 years ago.

“This would have helped me if I could have found something like this back then,” she says. “I was angry. I was mad at Randy for leaving, and mad at God for taking him. I was the mad woman on the mower on Saturday mornings, yelling. I mowed over Randy’s flower beds.”

Eventually, through journaling, Terry was able to move past her grief.

“In GriefShare,” Renee says, “you learn to lean into your grief.”

As a pastor’s wife, grief is nothing new to Lucy Wilson. Her husband, Steve, is pastor of First Baptist.

But when Lucy’s mother died in 1996, she says, she never had the opportunity to grieve. That same year, Steve’s best friend died.

“I look back on that and wonder, did I really grieve?” she says. “This is probably going to help me when I go through the classes.”

The program is church-based and non-denominational, and is open to anyone, says Reed Simmons, Renee’s husband, also a leader. “Grief doesn’t care whether or not you attend church.”

Cost for the workbook is $17, but scholarships are available.

The program’s motto is “Your journey from grief to joy,” Norma says. “About halfway through the program, I had glimpses that there might be some joy in my life.”

Reed wanted to participate to help men and women cope with the grief process.

“We all grieve differently,” Reed says. “When her mother died, I needed to be the strong one in the house for Renee and our children. When GriefShare came available, I was glad.”

The couple have been members of First Baptist for more than 30 years.

“It’s an extended family,” Reed says. “You see the hurts in the congregation. This isn’t a ladies’ ministry. All of us grieve. Part of what drew me to it was to say that it’s all right to be a man and be a part of this.”

“God is turning my loss into a ministry in our church for His glory,” Renee says. “My mother wouldn’t want me to be sad and crying. This is all a big leap of faith for me.”

If you’d like to participate in GriefShare classes at First Baptist Church, 302 Patterson St., China Grove, please call the church at 704-857-5415. The classes take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Mondays from Feb. 23-May 18.

 

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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