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Bereavement group sparks supportive friendships

They look like any other group of old friends, all four sitting inside a restaurant on Chicago’s North Shore.
And in many ways, they are.
Julie Jarlebrink, Joan Kelly, Howard Jessen and Corliss Mueller all share the highlights of their daily lives when they gather for lunch once a month.
But they also share a critical bond most others in the restaurant could never fathom: each lost a spouse in 2012, and they have become each other’s pillars thanks to JourneyCare.
It began when each of them attended a six-week spouse support group. Quickly, the foursome—along with several other group members—began having lunch after the group concluded
to continue working through their grief.
With time the group thinned due to sickness or moves to other cities, but the core four remain. They are committed to their lunches, where they discuss the loss that only they understand.
“We decided we liked it so much we would endure,” Howard said.
But Corliss, who lost her husband Jack, said the group also bonded because they all lost loving, long-term spouses—marriages ranging from 24 to 62 years. So they were happy JourneyCare connected them to understanding peers.
“We all trust one another because we had a beginning together,” Corliss said.
Joan adds, “Loss is a lot like childbirth: until you go through it, you don’t know what it’s like.”
Because of this bond, nearly every topic is open for discussion among them.
Joan confesses that her house didn’t feel like home once her husband, also named Jack, died. Howard tells of the night he was overcome with grief hearing music
that sparked memories of his wife, Susie. Julie shares stories about her husband Karl’s career as a merchant marine. She also recalls how JourneyCare was able to fulfill Karl’s
wish to spend his final days at home.
“I think so highly of this organization,” she says. “They were so knowledgeable about not only what Karl needed, but what I needed, too. They took care of the total person.”
Together, the friends also focus on moving forward. They encourage Joan as she begins a new relationship. They celebrate the births of new grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The foursome also finds humor as life unfolds, a coping skill they credit to their start with JourneyCare.
“We are not glum,” Corliss says. “Grief support is part of it, but there’s laughter and there’s friendship and fun.”


– By Elisabeth Mistretta, JourneyCare Content Specialist
Originally published in Touching Lives, Spring 2016