Walking together through the pain: New grief coping series begins Wednesday

PUNXSUTAWNEY — A part of the life that each one lives is grieving the loss of those that he or she loves, and doing so is one of the most difficult, diverse parts of life as we all know it.

In an effort to help those who are going through the grief process — or even those who know someone else going through it — two local women are teaming up to bring a new program to the community of Punxsutawney.

Chris Gigliotti, a mother who lost a son to an accident when he was far too young to be taken from her, and Brenda Shumaker, owner of Brenda D. Shumaker Funeral Home Inc. and supervisor of Shumaker Funeral Home Inc. in Punxsutawney, are pairing up to bring Walking Through Faith, an informational and inspirational nine-disc DVD series offering hope to the bereaved, to the Punxsutawney Area Community Center every other
Wednesday beginning this Wednesday.

Back in September, Gigliotti was key in bringing Alan Pedersen, founder of Angels Across the USA, to town to speak about bereavement and methods of dealing with it.

It was from that event and through their working relationship that Shumaker decided it would be a great idea to partner with Gigliotti in establishing the Walking Through Grief series.

"I attended the Pedersen program at the Pantall Hotel because I think it's great to learn anything we can about grief and how others can handle it, especially when I'm working with grieving families at the funeral home," Shumaker said. "It's important to learn all we can about helping someone who's grieving. I told Chris that I'd be interested in partnering with her if she wanted my help."

Out of Gigliotti's desire to help others who are grieving came the first program, but her pursuit of becoming a grief services provider and her ever-growing desire to help others through this journey led Gigliotti to seek this new avenue with a bit of a broader spectrum.

"I actually went to a class in Omaha through the American Grief Association about how to be a grief services provider, and I learned of this resource there. I really liked it and thought it was a great thing," she said.

Shumaker said that when Gigliotti presented her with the idea, she thought it would be a great opportunity to help anyone in the community who feels a need to learn or talk more about grief to gather.

"I love what I do as a funeral director, but I always feel like I could offer more. This is an opportunity to offer some additional care and some follow up care to anyone who needs it," Shumaker said. "Through the grief toolbox, which is how they present it in the series, attendees will be part of a well-organized program with videos and a lot of great topics to open up doors to share their own experiences and know they aren't doing this alone. Our goal is to just try to help someone. Even if only a few people show up, we'll be happy to be able to try to help anyone interested."

Shumaker said the need for the program is certainly out there, and she hopes people take them up on the offer to join them.

"I think it's nice to know that what you're going through is universal," she said. "Even though you feel as if you're going crazy at times, you don't always realize when you're in it that others are going through it too. It's a great chance for people to share that and to learn about the process others are going through, as well."

Gigliotti echoed the sentiment and added that she especially hopes the program might help others see how important it is to understand the grieving process those around them are going through.

"I just don't think people always realize what an isolating and lonely journey grief can be," she said. "I know I didn't get it until I was thrown head-first into it."

Gigliotti even broke down the need for understanding grief into a few different examples, beginning with family.

"This can be a really complicated one," she said. "The fact is, when you're grieving, your family is grieving too, and most likely, no two family members are grieving in exactly the same way. So, you might be having one family member cry all the time and others not crying at all. You have to understand that everyone grieves differently."

Another arena Gigliotti said the awareness could be beneficial might be in the workplace.

"You go to work, and your co-workers surround you," she said.

"Co-workers are just that, co-workers. They may know your story, they may not; they may be your friends, they may not be. But mostly, they are busy with their own lives. So you hear people complaining about having to put toner in the printer or someone worrying because their child got a C on a science test, and you think to yourself, 'Seriously, my son is dead.' But you can't say that, so you just listen with your teeth clenched."

Gigliotti said that through the lessons provided in the series, she hopes others can learn of the importance of being aware that they might not know exactly what's going on in the lives of those around them.

Both Shumaker and Gigliotti spoke of the friend factor, as well.

They said that, while it is a noble thing for friends to hope someone who is grieving "returns to normal," that is rarely the case.

"You get through it, not over it," Shumaker said. "It's nice, even for people who are just friends of those in grieving, to see that, a lot of times, people just need to talk about their loved one. You don't have to tell me anything; you don't have to fix me. Just listen to me talk about this person that I loved dearly, and that will help."

"Your friends want you to get back to normal, so they try to keep you busy and cheer you up," Gigliotti added. "But what they don't know is that the very thing they are trying to make you forget about is the only thing you can think about. The very thing they avoid talking about is the only thing you want to talk about, even if it does bring tears to your eyes. What we need to avoid is people having to act "normal." You might stop being invited to social events if you're the person who cries all the time or who is constantly talking about her dead child. So, again, you put on your happy face, but that's not the healthiest way to deal with it."

Another place that can be tough for grievers is church, Gigliotti said.

While the death of a loved one might bring one to a place where they have some tough questions for God, the church can come across as a place where grieving looks like what Gigliotti called "a lack of faith."

"When well-meaning people say things like, 'He's in a better place,' or 'You should be rejoicing,' it can make it hard to share your true feelings, even though you believe in God's will, and you know they are in a better place. You still question things, and it's still OK to be sad that they are gone."

Ultimately, what it comes down to for both Gigliotti and Shumaker is helping people realize that they aren't alone in the grieving process.

"I used to think that I was the only one who had these feelings, but after attending the Compassionate Friends National Conference, where there were 1,500 grieving individuals, I realized a lot of people feel the same way," Gigliotti said. "Ever since then, I've tried to find as much information as I can. There are a lot of good programs out there, but they aren't always easily accessible."

Shumaker echoed the sentiment of bringing a good program to the area.
"I think it's well done, and it comes from people who are grieving and who know about grief," she said. "It's a group of individuals who have gone through, or are going through, the process, and I really think it'll be beneficial to all who attend."

Gigliotti said that in connection with the series, she also hopes to bring Pedersen back in September to speak to those in need of encouragement in their grief.

She also noted that Darcie Sims does a great program concerning coping with the holidays after a loss, and she wants to share that with folks, as well.

Shumaker said that those who can't necessarily make every session shouldn't let that stop them from attending.

"I don't think that anyone has to feel as if they have to be there every week or anything," she said. "They can come to one and then come back and pick up right where they left off. We'll go through this series, and then see when we'd like to do it again."

In the end, she said, the entire thing is about gaining an education on the grieving process.

"We all stand to learn something, both from the program and from each other," she said.

Anyone with questions concerning Walking Through Grief can contact Gigliotti at 952-2100.

The first meeting will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Punxsutawney Area Community Center, and while RSVPs are appreciated, they are not required.