April 21, 2012

Faith-based groups help with grieving

The goal of the groups is to give one another support and allow visitors who struggle with loss to talk about their experiences.

McClatchy Newspapers

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Anna Emmart has run out of church a couple of times in the nine months since her husband died. The first time she returned to church after his death, she couldn't stay.

"I cannot say I was not angry with God," she said.

Then, during a Good Friday service, the event was so somber that Emmart "couldn't take it." She left. Then a few church members called -- that made a big difference.

Now, Emmart understands that her anger with God was part of the healing process and she relies on her faith to help deal with her grief. Emmart and other Bowling Green residents have started faith-based groups to help others who struggle with loss.

Emmart's first meeting -- dubbed A Shoulder to Cry On -- was Monday at Holy Trinity Lutheran School. Even though it's faith based, the group's goal is to give one another support and allow visitors to talk about their experiences.

It's not a place to force religion on anybody, Emmart says.

Likewise, a support program at Broadway United Methodist Church is Christian based, but accepts people from all beliefs and nonbeliefs, and does not require them to adhere to the church's beliefs, says Trudy Harden, a mentor with the Stephen Ministries, a nationwide grief program that's offered at the local church.

"We're not trying to force our religion on them," said Harden, who has worked with the ministry since 2005. "We're just there so they don't have to carry that burden alone."

Harden meets one-on-one with people, traveling to their homes, meeting them at restaurants or at the church. Sometimes people are turned away if they have serious mental problems that require professional help, but the majority of them just want someone to talk to, Harden says.

About a dozen church volunteers go through 50 hours of training, and their main job is to listen to people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, going through a divorce, having financial problems or any other kind of grief.

Volunteers will pray and talk about God only if the person wants to. In fact, a majority of those who seek help do not belong to the church, Harden says.

Regardless of whether the person is a believer, Harden keeps him or her in her daily prayers, she says.

"We don't turn them down because they're not a Christian," she said. "If we don't pray with them, we pray for them."

Harden understands grief -- and the role faith plays in the grieving process -- from her own experiences.

When her parents died, Harden didn't take time to properly grieve. Instead, she returned to work and her daily routine and tried to push away those feelings. It was a mistake that many make, she says.

When her husband died while they were vacationing in 2008, Harden, who was retired, had time to grieve. But it still took her awhile to reach out, she says.

"It's hard for people to sometimes accept the fact that they need help," Harden said. "I tried to be strong for my kids. I wouldn't break down and cry in front of them."

By then, Harden already was working with her church's grief ministry, and she soon found herself surrounded by other volunteers. They helped through phone calls, visits, cards and prayers, she says.

"I felt so blessed because I knew the times I couldn't pray, when I was hurting, they were praying," she said. "Grieving is a funny thing; everybody handles it differently. Some people turn to God; some people turn away from God."

Even though Emmart's husband was sick for four years -- he struggled with diabetes, heart problems and his leg was amputated -- she was devastated when he died. After meeting online, the two had been married for 13 years.

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