Together, group members work through their sorrow
Gladys Walters, whose husband, Gerald, died this year, learned about the local bereavement support group by chance a friend she ran into at the grocery store told her about it.
"I didn't know there was such a thing," Walters said. "I'd never heard of it."
The Tonganoxie bereavement group, which is sponsored by Hospice of Leavenworth, has been meeting for six years. The group gathers for a noontime potluck luncheon on the third Wednesday of every month. Ron Bottorf, who works for the hospice, said everyone who has experienced a loss is welcome to join the group at the Florence Riford Senior Center, 530 Bury. Walters not only attended a recent meeting, but she also brought a friend, Mary Ann Needham.
Needham recalled the feeling of helplessness she faced when her husband, Fred, died.
"I didn't know how to work the gas pumps," she said.
Walters said this is not uncommon.
"When you're a woman we're so helpless in so many things because we don't have the physical strength a man has," Walters said.
Bob Knapp, widowed when his wife, Lucile, died last August, has attended the bereavement group for six months. It's not just the companionship that brings Knapp to group meetings.
"I like the food," he said, smiling.
Each month, members of the group bring something to remind them of the person they have lost.
Because Memorial Day falls in May, at the most recent meeting, everyone brought a memento of military service.
Walters brought a military-emblazoned brass cigarette case and photographs of her late husband. Opal Kerns passed around a photograph of her late husband when he was a young man in the service. Bill and Dorothy Stewart brought a scrapbook filled with pictures of Bill during his military years in the South Pacific.
The Stewarts began attending the grief meetings about six years ago, after her mother's death.
Because Mothers' Day also falls in May, everyone shared favorite memories of their mothers. Arlene Wedel, the hospice volunteer who coordinates the monthly meetings, said her mother, who died at a young age from cancer, was always the most hospitable and popular mother on the block when she was growing up.
Bottorff said when he was 13 his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
"While she was a patient in the hospital she had a religious conversion to Christianity," Bottorff said. "At that point I saw a big difference in her, a big change in her life. But the biggest change I saw was the compassion and caring and giving."
Edie Jeske, volunteer coordinator for Hospice of Leavenworth, said that as a child she suffered from polio and made numerous trips to the doctor's office.
Her mother did everything she could to make those days fun.
"She let me wear lipstick," Edie said. "We would ride the bus to the doctor and then she would take me to a fancy restaurant that had cloth tablecloths and we'd have a fancy lunch, not a hamburger."
Bottorff explained that the meetings usually center on a topic, such as Mothers' Day or Memorial Day, but said people are always welcome to address issues pertaining to grief or to the feelings they're experiencing.
The May bereavement meeting was unique, Jeske said, in that a newspaper reporter was present. Those who regularly attend knew in advance that a story was going to be run in The Mirror. But normally, this wouldn't be allowed, she said.
"We follow rules of confidentiality," Jeske said. "What is said here doesn't go beyond the building."