Misery weighed down a Columbus man so heavily that he wondered “why I was even still here” in the spring.

But Stephen Growe figured there must be others squeezed by grief after the loss of a loved one. So with the help of the Rev. Patrick Galligar, director of pastoral care at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Columbus, he recently launched Growing Forward, a monthly grief support group at the church.

“I thought it might be good if maybe I could help others, too,” said Growe, whose inaugural meeting drew 10 people in September.

Growing Forward, meeting at 6 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, is designed just as its name implies, to help people move beyond numbing grief to eventually find joy again in life while still keeping and honoring a loved one’s memory.

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“God has created us to be in community and to bear each others’ burdens,” Galligar said.

Group members at all stages of grief and loneliness listen to one another’s hurts and triumphs.

They offer encouragement, comfort and sometimes bits of insight. At the group’s most recent meeting, Growe — who lost his wife Jo Ann to cancer in March after 47 years — acknowledged that even a mild thought of an innocent lunch with a female friend makes him “feel like I would be stabbing her (Jo Ann) in the back.”

He also acknowledged that such hurdles probably prevent him from progressing emotionally.

“I was mad when Jo Ann died,” Growe. “I guess I knew God had a plan. But I just didn’t know what it was.

“And I felt like I got cheated out of maybe 10 more years with her. But now, some of the good (of life) is starting to outweigh the bad.”

She died in the care of Our Hospice of South Central Indiana, an agency that Growe likes and respects. But he said it was too painful to consider attending its grief programs because his memories of her last days are still too painful for him, which represents another reason he launched the church group.

Supporting each other

“You are doing better, Stephen — you really are,” said group member Mary Jane Miller, who lost her husband a year ago.She apparently is doing better, too — so much so that she is reaching out to a recent widow to offer a lifeline of friendship and support.“I don’t feel like I’m ready,” Miller said. “But pastor (Galligar) said he thought I was.”

Galligar likes to see such growth where possible.

“It’s good if some people somehow can find themselves reengaged in a way to use whatever healing they have received from the Lord to comfort others,” Galligar said.

Tom Rust, whose wife Fran died during cancer surgery in 1997, repeated during the group’s October meeting that he felt inadequate to help, having been through extreme depression.

“I’ve experienced some of the same things you have,” Rust told the group. “But I certainly can’t come in here and say, ‘Here’s the answer for you.’”

Yet he did guide group members to Scriptures of comfort and hope, plus passages of God’s reassurance amid pain. Rust read Psalm 6:6 in particular: “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping, and drench my couch with tears.”

Some group members said they could relate.

Olivia Harden said her expression of loss over husband Michael’s death in March is slightly different — for now.

“I have not gotten to that point,” Harden said as her voice cracked with emotion. “I have not grieved that hard that way.”

Growing Forward

What: Growing Forward monthly grief support group for people who have lost loved ones. Though the informal group is Christian in its focus, it is open to nonbelievers as well.

When: 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month. Next meeting is Nov. 17.

Where: Room 2264 on the second floor of Columbus’ St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 719 Fifth St.

Cost: Free.

Information: Founder Stephen Growe at 812-372-9149.

Other groups for the grieving
  • Beginning Again: For anyone who has lost a loved one for any reason, meeting 2 to 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays at Our Hospice of South Central Indiana, 2626 E. 17th St. in Columbus. Information: 812-314-8042 or ourhospice.org.
  • Wings for the Journey: For those who have lost a child, even if it is an older parent and an older child, meeting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month at Our Hospice of South Central Indiana, 2626 E. 17th St. in Columbus. Information: 812-314-8042 or ourhospice.org.
  • Griefshare: For those who have lost any loved one, meeting 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Dec. 1 at Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St. in Columbus. Information: 812-348-6257 or cccolumbus.org.
  • Surviving the Holidays: Tips for the grieving to get through one of the tougher seasons of the year. One-time meeting 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 8 at Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road. Information: 812-348-6257.
  • Angels of Hope: For parents who have lost babies or children up to the age of 2. Meets from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. the first and third Wednesday of each month at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 719 Fifth St. in Columbus. Child care provided. Information: Megan Bozell at 812-343-7884 or Kylee Jones at 812-350-5944.
  • Companions For Your Grief Journey bereavement group: For those who have lost a loved one, a group led by Walter Glover, a certified grief counselor, and Jennifer Lowry. Meeting from 4 to 5:30 p.m. the third Thursday of every month at Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus. Center membership not required. Information: 812-376-9241 or millracecenter.org.
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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.