Debbie Lyons refused to see her life in terms of a “new normal.” A “new reality,” maybe, but even that came slowly.
Think of it, she said, as being in a hole.
“You’re in an abyss so deep, and coming out of that takes forever,” she said. “You climb up 14 steps out of the abyss and go back 27.”
Mary Noel-Owens understands. She remembers not being able to keep things straight in her head, a fog settling in on her thinking.
“I couldn’t remember things,” she said. “I had always been very organized. I could keep six balls in the air all at the same time, and suddenly I couldn’t do anything.”
Grief had been the thing that took hold of them, its qualities quite personal but somehow universal. Both lost husbands and found themselves not only missing their spouses but slapped with the dissonance of a new life.
Financial status changes. Circles of friends offer comfort, but the survivor suddenly becomes an odd fit. One person, not two, now has to make all the household decisions.
Noel-Owens had been married for 48 years, going from her childhood home to a college dormitory to her husband’s home. Never had she lived alone.
“I was really lost,” she said of going to her first grief session in Maryville, Missouri, in 2012. “We cried, and we were angry. We went through, ‘My dryer broken down, what the heck do I do.’”
Lyons lost her older brother to cancer in 2017. A year later, her husband had a massive heart attack and died in her arms. Some of that time still escapes her memory.
“When something traumatic like that happens and you can’t do anything about it, I can’t even explain to you the depths of that,” she said.
They sit together while talking about these hard times, occasionally doing something they thought had been lost; they laughed.
This sad bond has a tinge of restoration. They managed to rise from these depths through GriefShare, a faith-based but nondenominational support organization that helps people who have lost loved ones.
Together, they now help facilitate a St. Joseph chapter, which meets at Brookdale Presbyterian Church. It is part video seminar, part group discussion, part personal reflection and all nurturing.
The program works, the women say, because leaders have been through the grieving process themselves.
Noel-Owens, a former Nodaway County treasurer-collector, went through several sessions, first when her longtime husband, Francis, died, and again after the death of her second husband, Ed.
“Americans are not very good with grief. We are a generation of let’s get things done quickly, and so we kind of want everybody to get through the grief in two weeks and be back on the job,” she said. “Unfortunately, grief doesn’t work like that.”
Lyons still has what she describes as “grief bursts” in the aftermath of the sudden death of Glen, her husband of about 45 years.
“To weep and to show emotion after somebody you love has died means that was a great love,” she said. “It is absolutely OK. Tears are helpful.”
A GriefShare session has begun this month at Brookdale, located at 203 S. 31st St. In the past, it has taken place on Thursday nights, beginning at 6, but a morning group also has been formed. There is no charge. For more information, call the church at 816-279-0983.
Lyons regards the group as “a tribe” that knows the depths of much pain. “Everyone joins this club that none of us ever wanted to be in,” she said.