Shelby Baptist offering a hand through hard times

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Four times a year, Shelby Baptist Medical Center organizes a group to help those dealing with one of life’s hardest obstacles: the death of a loved one.

And even though participants in the grief support groups each deal with their losses differently, they all find a way to come together to support and comfort each other through some of the most difficult times in their lives, said Shelby Baptist Clinical Chaplain Tricia Dimmitt.

“Everybody is ready (to attend the classes) at different times,” Dimmitt said. “Some people are ready maybe a few weeks after their loved one dies. Others may wait two years before they need that support.

“Some people may come into the class once and realize they need more time before they step out and deal with their grief that way,” she added.

The hospital works to organize the free, six-week grief support classes four times each year to accommodate anyone who is seeking help in dealing with a loss. Each session typically includes between three and 12 participants, who share their stories and help to support their fellow group members.

The classes are not typically rigorously structured, which allows the participants to deal with their feelings the way they see fit, Dimmitt said.

“I tell everyone in the class that they are the experts of their own grief,” Dimmitt said. “You are the only one that knows what you need to do to help yourself heal.”

Most people who attend the groups have lost their parents, spouses or children, but Dimmitt said the groups are open to anyone. The classes are also open to more than one person from each family.

“They are all big losses, depending on the relationship they had with that person,” Dimmitt said. “People who have had more than one loss in a year have compound grief, and we help them get through that.”

Dimmitt said she encourages the group participants to talk about their losses, write about them, think about them and allow themselves to emotionally grieve any way they see fit.

“There are a lot of emotions involved,” she said. “Some people write stories or poems, some people make scrapbooks and some people keep journals.”

Because some people may have preconceived notions about how they should grieve, the classes also seek to dispel false ideas about the process, Dimmitt said.

“There are some cultural beliefs about the grieving process that are false, and they can be harmful,” Dimmitt said. “Most of the time, if you will just let people get together and talk, the healing process will happen naturally.

“We try to help people heal spiritually, emotionally and physically. We minister to their mind body and spirit,” she added.

Most class participants are struggling with their losses when they enter the group, and nearly all are able to better handle their loved one’s death after completing the class, Dimmitt said.

“It takes a lot of courage to step out and seek that help. I think this is a very important class, because you just don’t know how hard it is or how intense it is to lose a loved one until it happens to you,” she said. “This is one of my passions. I love helping people.

“It’s so rewarding to see people getting together to give others the help they need,” she added. “I think God created us as a community, not only in life, but in grief too.”

The next Shelby Baptist grief support group will begin meeting in early 2011, Dimmitt said. All grief support classes are free. To learn more about the program, or to register as a participant, call Dimmitt at 620-8056.