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GriefShare group helps life go on

Even those who consider themselves strong may need help after the death of a loved one, maybe long after others have moved on.

By EILEEN SCHULTE

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 21, 2002


Even those who consider themselves strong may need help after the death of a loved one, maybe long after others have moved on.

LARGO -- Sue Sibley's 65-year-old mother was in Boston dying of lung cancer at the worst possible time. On Sept. 11 she was nearing death, and Sibley, who lives in Clearwater, couldn't get to her. All planes were grounded.

Sibley, a nurse practitioner, caught the first flight north once service resumed. She was one of six people on board.

On Sept. 28, after a hard fight, her mother, her friend, died.

Devastated, Sibley, 43, kept herself busy with three kids, her husband and job. But the waves of sadness continued to crash over her. One Sunday morning at St. Patrick Catholic Church, she saw a flier for GriefShare, a new bereavement support group.

She attended the first meeting and now, almost a year after her mother's death, Sibley is mourning her passing with a group of total strangers.

"We didn't know each other, but we all cried," she said. "We didn't have to explain why."

GriefShare is a 13-session bereavement group that meets at 1:30 and 7 p.m. Tuesdays at St. Patrick Church, 1507 Trotter Road, Largo (584-2318).

The program is an offshoot of St. Patrick's Ministry of Presence, an organization composed of volunteers who attend funerals and send cards to survivors.

"My hope for this program is that people grieving a loss will know there are people with them on their journey," said Tracy Aguirre, 38, director of outreach ministries. "You need companions on your journey."

Aguirre said people of faith have an especially difficult time with death. On one hand, they feel they should be rejoicing because their loved ones are in heaven with God. On the other, they want them here on Earth with them.

The result can be confusion, depression and, above all, loneliness so deep they can forget what time or day it is. Worse, the survivor is still grieving, but others have moved on.

"A month or two after somebody loses someone, people stop talking about that person," said the Rev. Arthur Proulx, pastor of St. Patrick. "It's a terrible thing."

That happened to Patricia Marken, 63, whose 41-year-old son committed suicide the day after Thanksgiving 2001.

"First, you don't want to talk about it because it makes people uncomfortable," she said. "And if you do talk about it, you can see the door closing in their eyes, like they're saying, 'I'm not interested.' "

Marken, who considers herself a strong person who does not like "weepy people" and never thought group therapy was any good, was depressed.

"I didn't go to anybody when my mother died, and it took me 10 years to get over it," she said. "This time I said, God, I need some help."

After attending the first evening GriefShare session, she said she felt an immediate connection with others in the group, which included a young woman who lost her fiance, a woman whose baby died, and a man who had lost his wife of more than 50 years.

They told their stories and held each other for so long they lost track of time.

"I was lifted up," Marken said. "I felt better because I helped someone else feel better."

-- Eileen Schulte can be reached at 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.

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