Daily Reporter staff writer

HANCOCK COUNTY — Sandy and Kenny Myers were taking on the family Easter egg hunt, a tradition handed down from the previous generation, and they had just been to the store to get the plastic eggs.

Then there were officers at the door, coming with unthinkable news; their son, Eric, had been killed in an auto accident. The scene of approaching celebration that greeted them seemed to make it even more difficult to deliver the message they came to bear.

Months later, as Christmas drew near, Sandy struggled with how to sign Christmas cards. Should she include Eric’s name? Such small details compounded the family’s overwhelming loss.

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Thirteen years later, the Myerses help facilitate a group that meets at Zion Lutheran Church in New Palestine. It’s one of several groups meeting at churches in Hancock County that offer support to people in the community dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Some are independent support groups; others, such as the group at Zion, offer a 13-session course from the ministry, GriefShare, which uses videos and discussion questions to help people process what they’re going through. It also offers a “Surviving the Holidays” session with specific tips for this time of year.

Sandy remembers when she started going to the group, she felt she was going crazy. The reassurance she found, and now offers to others, was that the feelings she was experiencing were OK and part of the grieving process. In a group, people can find others going through the experience and find a safe place to talk, in a season of life in which friends might either struggle connecting or expect hurting people to heal quickly.

Sometimes, “they think you should be over and done with it in, like, a month’s time,” Sandy said.

In her third year of helping with the group, she notices a progression between the start and finish of a session. Knowing it takes time to get comfortable and build a rapport, she encourages people to come for at least three sessions.

With a new group, “They’re a little standoffish. They’re not sure what they’re getting into. They’re very quiet,” she said. But “by the end, there is great fellowship. … We’re like a big happy family.”

Some go through the course once; some repeat the course the next time it’s offered.

Diana Dijak said that’s also an option at the Seasons of Hope bereavement ministry she attended at St. Michael Catholic Church. She went through one of the six-week “seasons.” Each season has six two-hour sessions, and a person can attend as many seasons as desired, said Deacon Wayne Davis.

Dijak said after the death of her husband, Dennis, it was difficult to go to church — not because she was angry but because there were so many memories there. The Dijaks got married there in 1968 and raised their children there. It was hard to go without him.

At Seasons of Hope, “they gave us activities and helped us to speak up over different things,” she said. “I thought it was very helpful, because you can think you’re doing OK, and you’re not.”

She still gathers informally for brunch or lunch about once a month with people who were in the group with her and others who have since gone through the program. There are about 25 to 30 people who go; the group rotates restaurants each month.

She said Seasons of Hope helped her by offering a chance to read Bible passages, pray and talk about issues she was having in a group. Being in a faith-based grief group “kind of made it easier,” she said.

Stacie Ahrendt also was looking for a faith-based grief group and decided to start one. Hopeful Hearts meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the chapel at Brandywine Community Church. The group goes through the GriefShare curriculum a couple of times a year and has support group meetings in other weeks.

Ahrendt’s daughter, Chloe, died in an auto accident in January 2005. She said leading the group has helped bring healing to her own life.

“It’s blessed my heart to be able to lead it … and use the pain for a purpose,” she said.

She remembers the early days of grief, the ones that can sap a person’s desire to live. She, along with Sandy Myers and others, talks about the “new normal” those grieving eventually create.

Ahrendt thinks people often feel guilty when they reach a point at which they start to feel happy about something again. But “you can lead a life filled with joy and hope amid your pain and suffering,” she said, and she seeks to educate people about that.

“There’s Scripture that tells you (God) is close to the broken-hearted. … You feel his presence so strong. It’s just amazing.”

Grief support group sites

Brandywine Community Church, 1551 E. New Road, Greenfield, which has a group meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the chapel on the northwest corner of the building. Information: 317-408-7349.

Outlook Christian Church, 6531 N. County Road 600W, which recently wrapped up a GriefShare session. To ask about the next one, call 317-335-6815 or visit outlookchurch.org.

St. James Lutheran Church, 1741 S. State St., Greenfield, where GriefShare meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Information: 317-462-7340 or office@stjames-lutheranchurch.org.

Shirley Christian Church, 202 Meridian St., Shirley, where the Support & Grief Group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month. Information: 765-738-6365. 

Vineyard Community Church at Mt. Comfort, 1672 N.  County Road 600W, where GriefShare begins at 6 p.m. Jan. 10. Information: 317-894-3280 or vccmtcomfort.org.

Zion Lutheran Church, 6513 W. County Road 300S, New Palestine, where GriefShare will be offered again starting at 7 p.m. Jan. 28. Information: 317-861-4210 or zionnewpal.org

Finding a group near you

There’s a ZIP code search tool at griefshare.org.

Not a church, but …

Hancock Regional Hospital, where a no-commitment “drop-in” group meets at 10 a.m. Fridays in the hospice unit conference room on the 2nd floor of the hospital. Information: 317-468-4124 or kmurray@hancockregional.org.

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Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at annesmith@greenfieldreporter.com