'Grief Journey' comes after dad's death

With the arrival of fall comes the realization that the holidays will arrive soon.

While this sounds exciting to some, there are many who dread that time of year.

If you have ever lost a loved one near the holidays or if it the first holiday you will be spending without a loved one, you are aware of the difficulty this time of year brings.

Beth Slane of Harrisburg lost her father in 2009 and although she is a licensed clinical therapist, she is human, and the loss weighed heavy on her heart as thoughts of the holidays crept in. Out of her need for support, she discovered there was not a place in Harrisburg where she could go to talk with others in the same situation.

She approached her pastor, Dan Hester of Harrisburg United Methodist Church, and offered to develop and lead a support group.

Cecile Overcash of Harrisburg, also a member of the church felt the same way.

"My Dad had been dead for five years at the time, but I knew in my heart that I had never really grieved his death.

"I just tried to run away from my feelings and pretend to be doing OK.

"People had told me from the very beginning how strong I was and I didn't want to let them down," said Overcash.

With the approval of the church, "Grief Journey" a support group for grieving people, held its first meeting in early November 2009.

Slane and her co-leader, Shirley Luce used the book "A December Grief ... Living with Loss While Others Celebrate" by Harold Ivan Smith, as a framework for discussion and as a curriculum for members to work their way through the grieving process.

There are exercises and snippets short enough for a grieving person to deal with, according to Slane. The curriculum is set up to cover a three-month time span with weekly meetings.

"I did not know what to expect from the group and I was concerned that it had been too long and people would not accept my grief the way they accepted people who had suffered a recent loss," said Overcash.

"I was so wrong. You can't put a time limit on grief nor does everyone grieve in the same way," she said.

While Slane initially set out to help herself and others through the Grief Journey group, she discovered far more benefits than she originally expected.

None of the members knew each other before attending the group, but coming together with a common issue allowed immediate bonding between the members.

"Unlike other groups, when people come to this type of group, there are no pretenses or stigmas attached to grief and everyone is authentic," said Slane.

When the three-month study was complete, the members opted to stay together and continue to meet regularly throughout the year.

This past May, the group took what they had learned and planned a candlelight "Celebration of Life" service at the church for the members to share about the lives of their loved ones, light a candle in their memory and support each other.

"It was a beautiful time and we plan to continue the tradition annually," said Slane.

One of the criteria for all groups that meet at the church is to have an element of service to them. Throughout the year, the Grief Journey group collects materials to donate to Hospice of Cabarrus County. The supplies include personal care items, toiletries and tissues.

Realizing the continued need for such a group in our community, Slane and Luce will begin another Grief Journey group Nov. 7.

The group is open to adult men and women who are newly bereaved or who are still dealing with unresolved grief.

"It is not about the time that has passed, it is about where you are personally on the journey through your grief," said Slane.

She added that no matter where you are in the process, when you have a loss, there is suddenly a void in your life. People need somewhere that they can connect and make relationships outside of the family. At times the family is exhausted by the grief and this group is a safe place away.

"This group has helped me to begin a grieving process that I should have begun six years ago," said Overcash. "We cry together and we laugh together.

"I feel so blessed to have this safe place to go on Sunday nights and not pretend to be the strong one."