Carmen Halsey went to her first GriefShare meeting as a spectator. Almost two years after her husband, Keith, died of a heart attack on a Sunday morning in April, after her mother’s death less than a year later, and in the middle of a pandemic, she was looking for answers. Not so much for herself maybe, but for other women she had recently encountered who had lost a spouse.
“I remembered a woman had mentioned GriefShare to me in the receiving line at my husband’s funeral, so I found it online.” A session had just started at a church in Springfield.
Seated socially distanced with everyone wearing masks, she watched the meeting of the grief recovery group unfold. Some people spoke up, others didn’t. Some had lost spouses, others mourned parents, children, or friends. Some were recently bereaved, others’ loss was years old.
It wasn’t until the facilitator dimmed the lights and started the video that Halsey felt drawn in.
“I watched as Nancy Guthrie and pastors and others started talking about the things I was feeling but never talked about—would I have enough money to live, changed relationships, how long grief continued—but it was all grounded in Scripture,” she said.
“I didn’t speak up, but others did. I saw that when someone’s grieving, there’s a brotherhood there.” Halsey returned each week over the next three months for the group meetings. “I saw that grief is a journey—we’re either going to be intentional or we’re not.”
She chose to be intentional, both personally and professionally.
As a Leadership Development Director for IBSA, Halsey knew the ministry could be a valuable tool for her church and many others. First, she explored the organization that started GriefShare 35 years ago, the Christian ministry that had founded DivorceCare. Then she went to her pastor, the man who succeeded her husband as pastor at First Baptist Church of Raymond.
They soon started the church’s first GriefShare course. And Halsey began telling others about the opportunities it offers for personal healing, specialized small-group discipleship, and open doors for evangelism in the community.
Will we ever laugh?
Lila Speidel wasn’t really looking for a counseling group when she heard about GriefShare. During the four years after the death of her husband, Mike, Speidel had scoured the library for books on grief recovery. The best help she found came from a co-worker who occasionally offered to listen. “She made a safe place where it was OK to talk about Mike,” Speidel said. “After 35 years and five days of marriage, it wasn’t like his memory was just wiped off the face of the earth.”
Then her oldest daughter called. “You have to try this,” she said. Her pastor’s wife had led a group at their church in Naples, Florida. “It’s the best thing I’ve done to deal with Daddy’s death.”
So she did. She visited one session at a church in another town and her pastor did some exploration online. “You have to do this, Lila,” he told her, as did several other people. She eventually embraced the calling and started GriefShare at Logan Street Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, offering the 13-week small group meetings with videos and workbooks.
“You don’t realize how much (grief recovery) is needed until you go through it yourself, to know how a person feels and to understand their pain,” she said. Mike was a bivocational pastor, and Speidel now recalls with some chagrin her earlier attempts to comfort the grieving. “Even pastors tell me, ‘Lila, I just don’t know what to do.’” Making a safe place to process their sometimes-overwhelming feelings is the best first step.
Speidel found people willing to drive considerable distances to attend, sometimes because there’s not a similar opportunity in their community, and sometimes because they need the distance.
“A woman said she could not do this in her own town because of the circumstances of her son’s death,” Speidel said. “He was murdered.” That woman was in Speidel’s first group seven years go. “Lord, I’ve never had to go through what this person has suffered,” she said. And yet, she understands their pain.
Speidel said she tells every group, “I see how bad you feel especially at the beginning, but I see how you share needs and help each other.”
“Eventually they share a laugh, when they weren’t laughing at the beginning. I watch as they are healing, and that’s the greatest blessing of all.”
When hearts are open
Kip Troeger was looking for a way to minister to his community during the pandemic. “As a church we had been trying to find a way to heal from the tremendous loss that we have experienced due to Covid,” he said.
The pastor of Riverton First Baptist Church first heard about GriefShare from Halsey, not long after her own loss. “Then we stopped by her ice cream shop and she brought it up again.” Halsey opened the small store in a former barber shop building where her husband had taught Bible studies, in part as a tribute to him.
“She was talking about how powerful it was,” Troeger said, so he decided to look into the ministry. “During Covid, a lot of people have lost loved ones. It just seemed like it would be a good fit.”
And it was.
With his full-time work as an Army chaplain and a master’s degree in counseling, the bivocational pastor knew the need for skilled help during mourning. But he’s quick to point out that facilitating GriefShare doesn’t require a degree. In fact, it may work best for the unskilled.
“When I took their training, I was a little bit surprised that they stressed for the workers not to take a counselor role,” he said. “I was reminded that there’s power in people’s willingness to sit in each other’s pain. When people are willing to share in someone else’s grief and sorrow, that’s the power of the whole program.”
“Someone who has no background in counseling can feel comfortable facilitating a group,” Troeger said. “Sometimes you can just sit back and watch the conversation unfold among the people in the room. I’ll ask, ‘What really spoke to you in that video?’ and boom! it just takes off.”
Boarding the roller coaster
Grief is a challenge for everyone, but perhaps more difficult for men. “Guys really struggle with showing emotions, but a lot of guys have commented that they’re thankful to be in a safe place to let down their guard and share at a deeper level,” Troeger said.
Speidel agreed. “The men that go through the group are so grateful they did.”
Generally, more women than men participate. “Not everyone works so well in a group,” Speidel said. Some men at Logan Street Church have referred their friends to Lila. “I’ve had some men come just to see what the group is, to consider starting a group in their own church, for themselves as much as for others. And I say good. Good, good, good.”
Speidel often gives those who express interest a workbook and encourages them to visit the GriefShare website to watch videos and sign up for daily devotions—“just a daily tidbit, to get them started,” she said.
For everyone, one GriefShare stipulation is vitally important: Everyone grieves in their own unique way. “There’s no judging other people’s experience,” Troeger said. Whether the loss is for a spouse, a child, or a friend, grief is universal. But for each person, the experience is different.
“A person whose loss was a year ago might wonder why a person who lost someone five years ago is still grieving,” Troeger said. “They might think, ‘Get over it already.’ But there’s no judging. Everyone grieves on their own timetable and in their own way.”
Troeger said when starting the ministry at his church a year ago, he found he had unprocessed grief from his mother’s death 25 years earlier.
“Grief is a crazy thing,” the pastor said. “It’s not a linear thing. The grieving person doesn’t go from A to B and then it’s over. Grief is up and down, it comes back around. It’s a roller coaster.”
The Riverton church started a GriefShare ministry to help the community with Covid losses. What they found was open doors to even deeper spiritual conditions, specifically lostness.
“One person who lost a spouse was so angry at God. During the course of the 13 weeks, there was amazing healing toward God,” Troeger said.
Another person was invited by others in the group. “You could almost see visibly the Lord working in her life. She heard the gospel message through Griefshare.” The plan of salvation is presented clearly and concisely during the course, and again in the sessions on heaven.
Troeger talked with her about accepting Jesus as Savior, and she indicated she had. I said, “Are you saying straight up that you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior?”
“I have! He is my Savior,” she replied.
“Then you need to be baptized!” a man in the group piped up.
Halsey and Speidel have similar stories, as a recovery group becomes community, and community becomes an open door to the church and for the gospel. Very few participants have balked at the faith aspect, Speidel said. “They either grow in their faith, or they come back to their Christian faith. At least they think about it.
“The more I do it, the more I’m glad to share the gospel through GriefShare.”