Paralyzed by grief? You needn’t feel alone
When Betty Barksdale’s husband, Eldon, died of cardiac arrest on Jan. 29, three up-and-down weeks after colon cancer surgery, she went into a deep depression.
Betty, 72, had thought Eldon would surely recover quickly and be back at home in New Albany in a few days. His death, at age 75, was completely unexpected. She didn’t want to get out of bed, and even when she did, she couldn’t concentrate. She cried all the time and felt like she was losing her mind. “I felt like most of me was gone,” she said.
She and Eldon, a native of Crandall, had been married 54 years and did everything together. He spoiled her: He loved to do things for her, the wash, the cleaning, working in the yard. He was a kind and gentle man, and his unexpected death was devastating. “It was a shock, a definite shock,” she said. “He should have been home in a few days. But the Good Lord had other ideas.”
Barksdale could hardly bear to be alone, especially at mealtime and at night. She suffered from panic attacks.
Her three children were very concerned about her and encouraged her to get professional help. She had picked up a brochure at the Kraft Funeral Home in New Albany and started reading about a Hospice and Palliative Care of Southern Indiana program called “Living Through Grief.”
Most people think Hospice provides wonderful services for people who are just about ready to die, not hitherto healthy people who have just lost a loved one, but that notion is incorrect. Barksdale did something smart, and difficult. She called Judy Bryant, who coordinates bereaved services for Hospice.
Barksdale met twice with Bryant for individual counseling. Bryant urged her to join the six-week “Living Through Grief” program.
That was the last thing Barksdale wanted to do. She didn’t want to talk to anyone. Besides, she had never been to a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist in her life. “You think you can’t go on, so what’s the use?” she said during an interview last week, when she was accompanied by her friend and Hospice family support counselor, Marcia Fey Schroeder, formerly Corydon, now New Albany.
Barksdale’s children — David, 48, New Albany; Paul, 43, Cleveland, and Karen, 37, New Albany — and her doctor, Anna Marie Fisher, of Lanesville, all encouraged her to go to the Hospice program. Her minister at St. Mark’s United Church of Christ, Meredith Louden, also thought she needed counseling and wanted her to get involved with other people who would know how she felt.
At her first “Living Through Grief” group meeting, Barksdale met someone she knew, someone who was also grieving. “I was really glad to see her,” Barksdale said. “That made me feel much better. I just felt more comfortable.”
The eight people in her group discussed their individual situations. Barksdale was surprised to discover that others had also thought they were going crazy. Everyone in that room was going through similar emotions.
But even after that first meeting, Barksdale wasn’t sure if group counseling was for her, and she didn’t know if she would go back. She cries easily and often, although now she knows there’s nothing wrong with crying.
Again, her children and others encouraged her, and she returned. The second meeting was better than the first. “I met some very nice people,” she said. Everyone there had lost a spouse, except for one person who had lost a child. After a few weeks, they bonded.
During our interview, Barksdale suddenly remembered that she needed to call one of the group to ask her out to lunch. A few weeks ago, that would have been unthinkable.
Schroeder, a former sociology professor at Indiana University Southeast, said Barksdale’s case is a lot like others who suffer from grief and depression. Now, Barksdale knows she’s not alone, she’s not the only one experiencing the painful but necessary stages of grief.
“It sure got me started back to my recovery,” Barksdale said. “It made me realize I’m not the only one going through this.”
She said there are a lot of feelings and changes in her life now to deal with. There’s no set time for grief to stop, no set patterns for the stages, and that one thought can trigger a deluge of heavy emotions. She now understands, however, that you never completely recover from a loved one’s death, but you can learn how to deal with it in a healthy way.
Barksdale said the Hospice program has helped make her a stronger person, and she recommends it highly. Hospice now offers an adult bereavement class (as both an educational and support program) at Harrison County Hospital, beginning Monday, Aug. 19, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The group will meet privately each Monday night (except. Sept. 2, Labor Day) for six weeks. To pre-register, call 1-812-945-4596 or 1-800-895-5633.
Schroeder and her husband, Greg, are familiar with bereavement. On Feb. 12, 1977, their oldest child, Jarrod, 4-1/2, was killed when a big metal spring fell from a railroad trestle and bounced through the back window of their car, striking the child in the back seat. A year later, Schroeder, Velva Blank, Corydon clinical social worker Linda Runden and the Revs. Marion Garrett, then of Corydon Presbyerian Church, and Jerry Mielke, of St. Peter’s Lutheran, founded Bereaved Parents. The group met at Harrison County Hospital.
Interestingly, the man the Schroeders turned to for help in 1978 to start the program was the Rev. Wayne Willis, now interim pastor at Corydon Presbyterian, then chaplain at Kosair-Children’s Hospital. He ran the only bereavement program in the area.
More recently, Donna Windell and Tuula Van Gaasbeek, in conjunction with the YMCA of Harrison County, have started a bereavement group for parents who have lost children.