Sharing Stories from our Alumnae Community
Valerie Anderson ’81 has served as Executive Director of the AADC since March, 2011. She has guided the organization through challenging times with outstanding leadership and commitment. Here is her story of an outside activity close to her heart — leading a grief support group filled with people who really relied on her outreach and their connections with each other, published on February 22, 2021.
“Each day is a gift — tomorrow is not promised.”
My mom passed away three years ago. While I had experienced the loss of my father and other family members previously, it was my mother’s death that transformed me and put me on a new path in my life.
My mom spent six days in hospice before she transitioned this life. I was with her the entire six days. I, along with my five siblings, was responsible for handling all the funeral arrangements, the celebration of her life and homegoing service. I thought to myself, how do you handle these tasks when you are flooded with grief, still trying to process what happened? Did it happen or is this a very bad dream that I want to wake up from? A part of me ached with pain that was hard to explain. Reality began to set in that I was now on a grief journey different from others I had experienced.
I have been an ordained Deacon at my church for 11 years. I understood death and my faith knows that death is not the end; however, my grief journey was gnawing at me to do something. A question kept popping up in my mind: If I am hurting so badly, I imagine many others are as well. So, how could I help? As I searched my faith for answers, it was placed on my heart to start a grief support group. In 2019, I birthed the “Beauty for Ashes” grief support group at my church.
The first session was held in March, 2019, and those seeking help for their grief ranged in age, ethnicity and faith. Some of the losses shared were very recent and others had occurred years ago. A grandmother’s only grandson was murdered at the age of 21. A wife lost her husband who passed away on Valentine’s Day. A daughter lost her mother with whom she did not have a close relationship. These are a few of the people who attended my first grief support group and they needed comfort, understanding, and a place to express how they were feeling.
Grieving is a highly individual experience; there is no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you. The grief journey takes time and healing takes time.
I am not a trained therapist, but I acknowledge the value in creating a sacred support space for people who are hurting to express themselves in a caring and non-judgmental environment. One of the ways to move forward in your grief journey is to divert your attention to helping someone else. This is something I practice and it always helps me on my grief journey.
Sessions were held throughout 2019 and our last session of the year focused on “How to Survive the Holidays.” The group was scheduled to convene again in March 2020, when our plans were suddenly interrupted by this deadly plague, COVID-19, which changed our lives forever. The plans for the grief support went on hold as we all tried to make sense of what was happening around the world, focusing on doing whatever we needed to do to survive. It did not take long to realize that the virus was here to stay for a while. As we became too afraid to leave our homes or what soon came to be called “bubbles,” we realized life must go on, but very differently.
As the pandemic continued to rage, people were dying at an alarming rate. Due to guidelines and protocols in place, the grief and loss experience became very complicated. People could not be with their loved one as they were transitioning this life as I was able to do with my mom. People were not able to have funeral services the way I was able to do with my mom. People could not have family and friends gather at their homes to provide support, prayers, comfort and to drop off food like I was able to do with my mom. I soon realized that I was blessed to have been with my mom and have closure. So many people were being jolted on the grief journey with many needed and vital steps and preparation left undone. Instead of having closure, they had disbelief, anger, shock, guilt and a multitude of questions. Grief hurts, and complicated grief really hurts. It did not take long for my attention to be brought back to my purpose of helping others through their grief journey.
After communicating to the group participants that we would not be hosting in-person group sessions, everyone voiced the need to continue to meet. So we turned to Zoom to hold our sessions. It took some time for people to acclimate to using the technology but we helped them by providing instructions. They were determined to connect and continue receiving the support they needed.
Our sessions are held every other Saturday and we have up to 20 participants. Key topics pertaining to the grief process are introduced and organic discussion helps to facilitate a supportive session. While connecting virtually has its limitations, it has not inhibited participants from sharing. What is greatly missing during our virtual sessions is the ability to give a physical hug when needed or pass a tissue when tears are shed. Our participation since using Zoom has been very consistent and often they do not want the session to end.
COVID-19 may have stopped and taken away many things from us, but we did not let it stop us from being there to support each other during difficult times. We have all learned that each day is a gift and tomorrow is not promised. See the blessings every day. Let those you love really know that they are loved. Remember what is important. Use the precious gift of time wisely. Enjoy the present of today and let tomorrow worry about itself. Remember, there will be beauty for the ashes you are experiencing. May you be comforted by peace that surpasses all understanding.
If you are experiencing grief and wonder if what you are feeling is normal, you can rest assured it is. Grief affects you physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. However, if your grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling. An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.