Therapy group helps those who can't stop mourning Social worker runs 'Coping with Loss' ANNE ARUNDEL SENIORS

October 13, 1993|By Amy P. Ingram | Amy P. Ingram,Contributing Writer

Ethel Byrd, 76, cries more now than she did when her husband of 53 years died two years ago. "I just can't seem to get over him. He's gone and I can't seem to accept that," the Glen Burnie resident said, with tears in her eyes.

But Mrs. Byrd has found help in 70-year-old Anne Spear.

Mrs. Spear, a clinical social worker retired for 17 years from Anne Arundel County's Family and Childrens Services Inc., has taken the grieving Mrs. Byrd and six others into her care in the back room of the Pascal Senior Center in Glen Burnie.

Mrs. Spear, who lives in Annapolis and works part time for her own psychotherapy service, has coordinated a group called "Coping with Loss," for seniors having trouble coping with the death of a loved one. The therapy group has been meeting each Monday.

"At our age, we sustain a lot of losses," Mrs. Spear said. "Everyone who comes in here is having trouble recovering from the loss. The people who come are not people already adjusting, but people who can't even accept the loss."

Mrs. Spear said she's not there to teach or tell them what to do but, "just to help them ventilate their feelings." She discusses the financial implications associated with losing a spouse and suggests finding resources in the community, like senior centers, to help cope.

She looks for signs of depression that may require medical help. She fears Mrs. Byrd may be one of those people.

"Ethel is in the extreme anger stage now," she said. "She thinks life's not fair -- which we know it's not -- she's not eating right and not sleeping. She doesn't even want to move on, she just wants her old life back."

Mrs. Byrd, dabbing at her eyes occasionally, agreed, saying she never even thought about her husband dying -- even after he suffered his second stroke.

"He was every man in my life, my husband, my lover, my father," she said. "I wouldn't think of the possibility of him leaving me. I've buried so many people, but I never buried him."

Her husband's body was donated to research science, so Mrs. Byrd never had a funeral and has no grave to visit.

The grave is an important place of comfort for Elsie Bradshaw, 72, a widow who visits the cemetery each week to talk for an hour.

"Sometimes I don't believe he's gone until I see the grave," said Mrs. Bradshaw, whose husband died three years ago from cancer of the pancreas. "He was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and to let him go isn't easy."

The meetings with Mrs. Spear also have helped, allowing her to meet and talk to new people suffering the same grief.

Mrs. Bradshaw said the hardest part is seeing older couples holding hands, taking walks and shopping together.

"It hurts to see them together because I walk alone," the Brooklyn Park resident said.

Mrs. Spear, who has been in the field of counseling since she was 16, enjoys working with seniors the most because she shares the same problems and can understand what they're going through.

"If I've learned one thing, it's that death is just one of those things that happen," she said. "There's no one that I know who can avoid it."

She tells all her seniors at the end of each session: "The pain eases in time if you accept the loss and try to pick up the pieces. There still is sweetness in life."

In November, Mrs. Spear and the Pascal Senior Center are sponsoring a seminar for families of the elderly. She will also offer another "Cope Loss" workshop in April.

For more information, call 222-6680.

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