More than 50 years after losing her daughter, nearly 30 years after the death of her first husband and a year-and-a-half after her second husband died, the grief was catching up to her.
Sharon Calaway was struggling with being sad and lonely and just missing her husband. She was jealous of people who still had their spouses, she was sick of coming home to an empty home and sometimes she struggled to get out of bed.
She needed something.
“You just need to talk to someone. It’s been a year-and-a-half, but that’s not that long,” she said.
Calaway found a program called GriefShare at Gracepoint Church in New Whiteland, which is geared toward helping people through grief, no matter how long it has been since they lost their loved one.
The Bible-centered program lasts 13 weeks, but people can join at any time and then retake the program if they want. GriefShare is nationwide, with a curriculum and videos and discussion points, and at least four churches in Johnson County are currently offering the program.
Members meet weekly, watch videos on topics ranging from guilt and anger to being stuck in their feelings and discuss Bible verses, but they also share their struggles and support each other, said Donna Smith, who is leading the program for the church.
“Some people just accept it and others just have a horrible time,” Smith said.
“People need someone to share that with, and this is the place.”
For Calaway, grief has just been a part of her life. At the age of 21, her 2-year-old daughter was struck by a car and killed. Then, after 23 years together, she lost her first husband, Larry, to pancreatic cancer. She married again, and lost her second husband, Kurt, after more than 27 years together.
When her daughter died, Calaway was busy taking care of her youngest, who was 3 months old at the time, so she didn’t have much time to grieve. When Larry died, she had three daughters to take care of, with two in college and one in high school. But when Kurt died, she didn’t have as much to keep her mind occupied, and that has been a struggle.
She still expects to see him coming down the stairs in their Greenwood home, and she still can envision him looking at her.
“You don’t only lose him, you lose us,” she said.
“Some days, you could just scream, you’re so lonely.”
The GriefShare program was the second Calaway has attended to try to deal with her grief since losing Kurt, and the weekly meetings and lessons are helping her move through the grieving process after being stuck, she said. She also is working through her struggle with balancing her faith in God with her grief, she said.
She has struggled to come to terms with the fact that this is God’s plan for her life, and being thankful for that, she said. But as she has gone through the program, she has been able to remember the gifts God has given her, including when Kurt survived kidney failure and heart disease, when doctors said he shouldn’t have, she said.
“God is with me. I know he is, but it’s hard to get that from your head to your heart that’s hurting,” she said.
She hopes that by going through the GriefShare program, she can find a way to help others who are struggling, she said.
That also is where Julie Vanaman hopes to be in the future, and is considering become a group leader after starting GriefShare this year, a program she calls a Godsend.
Vanaman lost her mother five years ago, and when she died, it was up to Vanaman to begin caring for her father with dementia, her brother who is bipolar, her other brother who is developmentally disabled and her own two adult sons.
“I am all they have,” she said.
At the same time, Vanaman has had some of her own health issues, with her heart, asthma, fibromyalgia and suffering mini-strokes, she said.
With all of those responsibilities, plus working full-time for the state, Vanaman never felt she had the time to grieve, nor did she want to upset her family, she said.
“From that moment on, I had to step into her shoes. I never really had time to fully grieve,” she said.
But she struggled with missing her mom and the support they would give each other. They talked all the time. If she had a rough day, she called her mom, and she didn’t have that anymore, she said.
“My mom and I were each other’s support system,” Vanaman said.
Her mother’s death also was very sudden and came as a huge shock, she said. The two were supposed to go shopping when her father called and said something was wrong. When Vanaman got to their home, her mother had already died, she said.
She would talk with friends at Gracepoint Church about her struggles and missing her mom, and after lots of encouragement, she began attending the GriefShare program. There, she can talk about missing her mom, but she also can let out her feelings about her father’s struggles with dementia and her brothers’ health issues. Being able to just talk relieves some of her stress, while also giving her the support she needs, she said.
Vanaman also is seeing changes in herself since starting the program, with being willing to talk more, take on leadership roles and gaining self-confidence, she said.
“I’m coming more and more out of my shell and supporting others,” she said.
She is considering becoming a group leader so she can help others who are newer to the grief process go through the steps, but also help them understand that no matter how long ago their loss was, they can and should still grieve, she said.
“It can be 10 years or 20 years. For me, it’s still going to feel like yesterday because me and my mom were so close,” she said.
“I’m never going to totally get over it.”
Kara Baker thinks that is a message that she would like to see get out more — that grieving isn’t done on a timeframe.
“So much of the world focuses on ‘You had your three days off work and you had the funeral and now it’s back to life,'” Baker said.
Baker lost her mother unexpectedly in 2013 and her father last year, along with her two grandmothers during that same time period. Her husband found the GriefShare program at Gracepoint and recommended she go. The people sharing in meetings and videos seemed to be speaking directly to her, Baker said.
She knew what she felt was normal and she could count on a group of others for support, while they also could lean on her, she said. And that was exactly what she needed.
Baker would like to see the program expanded to her church, Stones Crossing Church, and allow more people to benefit from it and see it’s OK to grieve, she said.
“There are so many resources out there, and you don’t have to suffer alone,” Baker said.
Here is a look at area churches that offer GriefShare programs:
Gracepoint Church, 330 W. Whiteland Road, Whiteland
Meets: 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Contact the church: 317-535-3512
Union Christian Church, 1331 E. County Road 300S, Franklin,
Meets: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays
Contact the church: 317-736-4077
The Crossing, 8728 S. Nineveh Road, Nineveh
Meets: 9 to 10:30 a.m. Sundays
Contact the church: 317-933-3400
Mount Olive Lutheran Church, 5171 W. Smokey Road Road, Greenwood
Meets: 12 to 1:30 p.m. Sundays
Contact the church: 317-422-9991