Losing a spouse is often one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. Some couples who live at Masonic Villages have been together for more than 70 years. Losing their spouse is like losing part of themselves, leaving them with an unimaginable sense of grief and emptiness.

Four years ago, Jonathan Noel, minister of worship in music at Masonic Village Elizabethtown, discovered a national program for grief recovery. The program focuses on bringing participants past their grief after a loss. After sharing the idea with his fellow spiritual care staff, they decided Masonic Village residents would benefit from its purpose.

“We wanted to do something for the widows and the widowers, all the residents who lose their spouses,” Pastor Preston Van Deursen said.

Unfortunately, the approach the program took to grief wasn’t very helpful.

“The program started making it sound as though you will never get over your grief if you don’t have enough faith,” Pastor Van Deursen said, “and if you are still grieving, it is because you don’t have enough faith.”

In light of this, the spiritual care staff decided to stop using the program, and wrote an entirely new one, calling it “Hope Share.”

The new program is eight sessions, with one session per week and a memorial service at the end of the program for the lost loved ones. The first week, each member of the group shares his or her personal story with the rest of the group. They talk about how they met their spouse, health challenges their spouses faced and how they are doing since they lost their spouse. In the following sessions, the group talks about what grief is, ways to take away regrets and guilt, how to continue to feel connected to their spouses, how to get through the special days, like anniversaries and holidays and how to “live with hope.”

“Each week, we got a different scripture, and we had different projects that helped us to go through different phases of grief,” said resident Prudence “Prudy” Mann, who lost her husband of 55 years in January.

Some of the most helpful activities for residents like Prudy have been writing down regrets and burning them, releasing balloons to meet their loved ones in heaven and putting a paper heart back together by turning what each person misses about their spouse into what they are grateful for.

Prudy said the group really helped her get through the death of her husband and reminded her that her husband is in a better place now.

“Death is an experience you go through with someone else, but if you are, as I am, a believer, you feel that death is just a stepping stone in life,” Prudy said.

Pastor Van Deursen said one of the most helpful aspects of the group is that residents who have lost a loved one are able to communicate with each other and realize that they are not alone. Prudy recommends the group to others on campus who are grieving the loss of their spouse, no matter how they are handling their grief.

“Each person goes through grief differently,” she said. “You have to do it your way, with the help of other people, but especially with a strong  faith, so you know that your loved one is OK.”

About the Author: Holly Hendershot is a public relations associate at Masonic Villages and a senior at Waynesburg University