In the four years since Katie York died, her mother, Melrose, has become what she calls a “grief ambassador.”
“It’s given me purpose knowing I can help others with their grief,” said York, a member of Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church.
In two weeks, the church will offer GriefShare, a 13-week seminar and support group for people mourning the loss of a loved one. York facilitates the program with Helen Morgan, of First Presbyterian Church of Augusta.
The two churches are collaborating to bring the grief-support ministry to members of their congregations and the community at-large.
At the opening session, York and Morgan will share their experiences.
In April 2008, Morgan’s younger sister, Ann Fox Smith, was murdered in Aiken. York lost her daughter, Katie, in May 2008 to complications from viral encephalitis.
Two years later, the Wilson Family YMCA dedicated the Kathryn M. York Adapted Aquatics Center in honor of Katie, an adapted-aquatics instructor.
She would have been 23 the day the pool opened.
“GriefShare helped,” said York, who went through the program as a participant after Katie’s death. “What I love about this program is it provides ongoing care after the cards and letters stop.”
GriefShare is a ministry of the North Carolina-based Church Initiative, a nondenominational nonprofit that equips churches with a variety of small-group curriculums, including DivorceCare support groups and Chance to Change, a ministry for gambling addicts.
Thousands of GriefShare support groups meet weekly throughout the United States and Canada. A handful of other local churches also participate.
The group that now meets at Trinity began with a half dozen women in a living room three years ago.
“At First Pres, we both knew a woman who lost her husband,” York said. “We met in this woman’s house, and it grew and grew and grew.
The most recent session of GriefShare, in the spring, had 27 participants. More are expected in the fall session.
“It’s going to take off,” York said. “We had to move. There’s such a need for this in the community.”
The Rev. Greg Hatfield, the senior associate minister at Trinity, agreed.
“There’s undealt with grief from illness, divorce, death. I see it every day in some form,” he said. “We want people to deal with it in a healthy way.”
The sessions address topics surrounding grief, including Living With Grief, The Journey of Grief, When Your Spouse Dies, Surviving the Holidays, and what the group calls “secondary grief.”
“My sister who died was a teacher,” Morgan said. “The next fall, I walked into Staples and saw the notebooks and just started crying. That’s secondary grief.”
Everyone experiences it in different ways, often months or years after the fact, York said.
“I have a terrible time going to weddings,” she said. “I think about how old Katie would be. That part of her life is over. I can get through the wedding, but I can’t watch the father-daughter dance. I still can’t.”
The group aims to be a safe place to work through issues of grief, Morgan said.
“Generally in America, you take two or three days for the funeral and go back to work,” she said. “You’re supposed to be over it in two to three months. Your friends are tired of hearing about your grief. People want you to feel better again. GriefShare is a wonderful place where you’re loved and accepted and no one is going to say, ‘move on.’”
Sally Sollie, like a number of participants, has attended GriefShare more than once. The 85-year-old’s husband died of Alzheimer’s disease.
“I was lost after he left,” Sollie said. “I was very much secluded in many ways during my husband’s illness. This was a way of reaching out.”
She liked GriefShare because “they deal with the emotion, spiritual and physical side effects of grief.”
The program is “biblically centered,” York said. Participants are offered workbooks with prayers, and one week focuses entirely on heaven.
“We have a view toward eternity,” York said. “I know where I’m going to be at the end of my life. I’m going to be with my Lord, and I’m going to be with Katie. I have that hope.”