Profile: Person of the Year Robby Owens


After Denise’s death, Robby went to a psychologist, who encouraged him to contact Community Grief Support Service in Homewood. Through that service, Robby got involved with a grief support group, which helped him realize others understood what he was going through.

“In group, what can’t be done individually is you learn that others are going through the same thing. You start to rely on each other. It’s very helpful,” he said.

Robby said the hardest part for those grieving is the idea that nobody understands what they’re going through — including them. Dealing with grief is a long process, one that often takes years.

“When my wife died, I was lost for a long time,” he said. “For the first two years, I was totally lost.”

During that time, Robby suffered from mild situational depression. There are two types of depression — clinical depression, which typically needs to be treated in a variety of ways, including medically, and situational depression, which is a response to a situation a person in which a person finds himself or herself.

However, Robby persevered, and worked through the dark times. About four years ago, he joined the board of directors at Community Grief Support Service and enrolled at the University of Alabama College of Continuing Studies to take classes in thanatology, the study of dealing with loss. He got his certification and then became a facilitator for grief support groups through Community Grief Support Service.

As a facilitator, Robby works with different kinds of support groups. He works with general loss groups, which include people who are dealing with different losses — some may have lost relatives, some may have lost close friends or other loved ones. He also works with specific loss groups, in which everyone in the group has experienced the same type of loss, such as that of a spouse.

At first, Robby learned about facilitating to help himself get through tough spots. Soon, though, he realized he could use that knowledge in other ways.

“At the beginning, it was because I wanted to know whatever I could to help myself,” he said. “Then it was like, ‘Wait, you can help yourself and you can help somebody else too.

“It’s a way to give something back,” Robby added. “The idea is that you can impact them by offering your own experiences to them.”

While it’s not a requirement that facilitators have experienced loss, Robby said he believes the best ones have.

“The best facilitators I’ve ever known were always somebody who had lost somebody,” he said.

Facilitators are there to help group members through the grieving process, but also to tell them the truth from the perspective of those who know.

“We try to make people feel like, ‘You are going to survive this, and you will be normal again, but it won’t be tomorrow,’” Robby said. “They know I’m the district attorney of a county, and if a district attorney can experience this and relate his feelings, then it’s not that unusual.”

Robby also gained something else from his time in a grief support group — Karen, his second wife. They met as Robby was dealing with his grief over Denise and Karen was working through the process of grieving for her husband, who also died of cancer.

“She was helpful because she was going through the same thing,” he said.

Robby and Karen, an architect based in Birmingham, have now been married for three years.