From left, Judy Board, Mary Jane McMichael, Karen Dahlquist, Carolyn Hellberg and David Engelhard chat during a recent GriefShare class at Emmanuel Lutheran Church.

The grief of losing a loved one can be devastating. No matter how strong and courageous you are, it can hit you in ways you didn’t anticipate. Everyone deals with sorrow and grieving in their own ways; there’s no set formula for navigating the storm. However, a program is being offered locally to help.

GriefShare is an international, Christian-based ministry, founded in 1998, currently being used in the U.S. and 10 other countries. A GriefShare program is being held at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 528 Lincoln St., in the Fireside Room. It began Sept. 6 and continues on consecutive Tuesdays.

Although all losses — including divorce, job loss and other events — can cause emotional pain, this program is only for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, recently or some time ago. There is no fee, and it is a nondenominational program, so everyone is welcome.

The free-standing sessions run for 13 weeks. Each session is self contained; you can attend at any time during the series. Sessions include an informational video and a small-group discussion, if you want to talk about it. If not, that’s all right as well. Participants also receive a workbook to help them on their journey through grief and back to their lives.

Class topics include the challenges of grief; the journey; how grieving affects your relationships; guilt and anger; a spiritual perspective on why it happened; heaven; and lessons learned.

Program facilitators try to host two class series each year, said co-organizer Carolyn Hellberg.

“We would like to expand. If we had more facilitators, we could have four sessions a year. It would be nonstop because grief is nonstop,” she said.

Other group organizers include Mary Jane McMichael and Judy Board.

“We are facilitators, not professional counselors,” Board said.

Dealing with grief takes its own time. Class sessions are intense and intimate, and sorrow, deep emotions and concerns are shared.

“Confidentiality is so important,” Board said.

McMichael said the sessions held here since 2014 have worked out very well.

“There’s a sense of not being alone,” she said. “You can come to a place where it’s understood. Different situations are just a different verse in the same song.”

Often, a grieving person has a tremendous sense of isolation. The group helps alleviate that loneliness. Participants often become very good friends.

Hellberg said the group often consists of about 12. Participants are free to talk about their feelings, or just listen.

Practical reassurance is essential in the process. The first session is titled, “Is This Normal?” All kinds of emotions are normal, as is being nervous about attending a grief-support group. But there are reasons to be hopeful for healing and peace in the long journey through grief.

Facilitators will hold a separate session before the holiday season. “Surviving the Holidays,” scheduled for Nov. 15, is geared to help the bereaved cope with the loss of their loved one during the family-focused, social time of year.

In addition to emotions, practical issues are addressed, such as whether to clean out the loved one’s clothes and belongings, when to do it and what to do with the items. Spiritual issues are also discussed.

“We walk by faith, not by sight, and certainly not by feelings,” McMichael said. “We also discuss family relationships; people grieve differently. GriefShare weaves together some pretty heavy-duty things with tenderness and laughter.”

Karlene Ponti can be reached at or 509-526-8324.

Karlene Ponti began as Special Publications Writer in 1999, work includes Lifestyles, The Weekly and Business Monthly. After Wa-Hi, Ponti attended Whitman and is a UW graduate. Later she was ordained a Christian minister at CDM Spiritual Teaching Center.