By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN Providing a place of support and mutual understanding for men who are dealing with the death of their wives is the reason behind the monthly Grieving Men’s Breakfast support group.
Pastor Lyndon Korhonen of Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church found there was a need for such a group after two men from the community lost their wives three years ago Brian Jensen (Lynda) and Rodney Erickson (Lanette).
“I felt so bad because in my mind, they were such young guys to be widowed,” Korhonen said. Lynda was 42, and Lanette was 59 when they passed away within one day of each other in June 2010.
Korhonen thought about such a group and wondered if there would be any response from widowers in the community.
“It seems like when women get together, they are more likely to talk guys, not so much,” he said, adding that a support group would be a catalyst to get the men talking a bit and therefore, supporting one another in their grieving and everyday life without their wives.
Korhonen also decided it would be nice to make the men who did come a breakfast so that they would have a meal provided for them once a month.
The Grieving Men’s Breakfast, which meets the fourth Saturday of the month at 7:30 a.m., turned out to be something the community was lacking.
Because it’s open to community members and not just members of Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church, widowers from around the Dassel-Cokato community began attending.
Average attendance has been around seven, Korhonen said, but there have been as many as 11 men there. The current age ranges from 60 to 90, he noted.
As facilitator of the meeting, Korhonen uses a series of four books from “Journey Through Grief” by Kenneth Haugk, a Missouri Synod pastor who lost his wife, to spark topics of conversation among the group.
For example, one of the topics the book covers is how to deal with the “firsts” following the death of one’s wife the first anniversary, and the first Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The men then begin to share their own stories on what they’re going through and how they’re feeling.
For instance, one widower shared how he leaves the radio on when he is home so that the house isn’t quiet, Korhonen explained.
“It’s good that they can talk and know they are not the only ones feeling that way,” he commented.
Elroy Dahlin lost his wife, Betty, four years ago. She was 73, and the couple had been married for 44 years and four days.
He joined the support group because he felt he needed to get together with other men who were facing the same issues. Someone he looked up to was Arnie Anderson, who had lost his wife 20 years prior, but was dealing with many of the same problems Elroy was after losing his wife only a year prior.
“It’s nice to have that support,” he said.
What’s been hard for Dahlin is the house being so quiet and someone not being around all the time.
He also mentioned the fact that now he’s doing things around the house that she would always take care of, like dishes and laundry.
“You don’t realize what they all really do,” he said. “Until it happens, you take your wife for granted.”
After the men’s group took off, the church started receiving requests for a women’s support group, which began in April.
The Women’s Grieving Breakfast meets the second Saturday of the month from 10 to 11 a.m. and is facilitated by husband-and-wife-team Jerry and Marty Fitzloff.
Jerry has a degree in sociology and has worked as a chemical dependency counselor at places such as New Beginnings in Waverly and the Hutchinson hospital. He has also facilitated family counseling.
With Pastor Korhonen leaving Good Shepherd and the Cokato community after accepting the presidency of the Association of Free Lutheran Churches, the Fitzloffs will be facilitating both the men’s and women’s groups.
The dynamics of the two groups have been different in regards to the time that has passed since they lost their loved one, Jerry noted. In the men’s group, the men have been widowed for four years or more, whereas with the women, their loss often is more recent, Fitzloff explained.
The women’s group is also different in that it’s open to women experiencing any type of loss or grief, such as losing a child or going through a divorce.
The latter is the case with Rebecca Wanha, who has been attending the meeting since May in an effort to cope with a divorce. For her, and most people, going through a divorce is considered a loss and brings different levels of grief.
“Grief is a process, and just knowing that it is okay to just go through this, and to know we have sisters in Christ who can really understand and support you, is what this is all about for me,” Wanha said.
To learn more about either of the groups, contact Jerry at (320) 212-9065 or Marty at (320) 293-7370.