A pandemic didn’t stop a group aimed at helping people through loss reach its goal.
More than 25 participants of GriefShare in St. Joseph have finished the program after a year of COVID-19 restrictions could have kept them from getting the support they needed.
GriefShare is designed to help those who have lost a loved one overcome their grief. At a closing ceremony last week, the program welcomed groups from both the fall and spring sessions of 2020-2021. Mary Noel-Owens, who leads the St. Joseph GriefShare program, said when she approached participants from the fall with the idea for a convergent gathering, they were excited.
“With COVID at the end of the fall session in December, we weren’t able to do any kind of get-together. We decided when we were going to do this that we would combine the two groups and have one big closure,” said Noel-Owens.
In a year when Noel-Owens thought the COVID-19 pandemic was going to hinder the program from reaching its goal of having full participation, the sessions saw people come out to participate beyond their standards this year, all while following social-distancing and face-covering guidelines.
“When we started out with ‘loss of a spouse,’ we had only four or five come and we were kind of down,” Noel-Owens said. “Then all of a sudden it was like they came out of the woodwork and we ended up having one of the biggest sessions we’ve had in a long time.”
Debbie Lyons was a coordinator for the St. Joseph GriefShare program’s closing ceremony. She said it was wonderful to see both groups come together at the end given how difficult it can be for participants to first go to a session to bring forth their grief about losing a loved one.
“Speaking from experience, when we first stepped in, that first step was very hard,” Lyons said. “So we understand the tears, the sobbing, everything and to watch them go from that point to be able to ask questions, to share their great losses, it’s absolutely amazing.”
Participants at the closing ceremony were given their own luminaries which they could release near the Missouri River in order to symbolically let go of their troubles.