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By Eileen Gianiodis | Photography by Tom Gennara

It feels like half of you is gone

When Judy Wood’s husband died suddenly three years ago, she felt lost.

“We were partners,” she says. “And it feels like half of you is gone.”

After 41 years of marriage, Judy says Jim’s death left her desolate. That’s why she has been grateful for the Bereavement Support Group at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in East Lansing. She started attending shortly after Jim died, and says the group has given her the ability to move forward.

“Everyone’s life is complicated in different ways, and there’s no right way to grieve,” she says. “You just have to go through it.”

The support group at St. Thomas was started in 2011, and welcomes participants to share their grief stories and listen to the stories of others. The group meets every other week.

“We’re all different, and the way we go through grief is all different, too,” Judy says.

Joining the group helped Judy feel supported in more than just her grief, she says. The couple has a son, Steven, who lives in Chicago, and Judy says they see each other as often as possible.

One big change for Judy was that she needed to take over tasks she hadn’t done before.

“There were a lot of things that Jim took care of that I never did,” she says. “We had always divided work – he took care of bills, trusts, legal matters, the house … It was very different for me. It scared me. The group encouraged me to seek advice where needed and gradually get a sense of order.”

The group leader, Jim Zalba, uses the book Understanding Your Grief, by Alan Wolfelt to direct them, and encourages members to journal. Typically, there are eight to 10 members at a meeting.

“I found a journal that I wrote back in 2012 and it was interesting to read. I found that the writing helped,” she says. “The firsts – holidays, anniversaries – are hard, very hard at first. I didn’t realize that I would feel so bad. But it does get better gradually and it was so good to have the support in this group.”

Judy attended meetings regularly for 18 months following her husband’s death, and now she attends when she feels the need.

Members share confidentially, she says, and that has become an important aspect for her and for other members of the Bereavement Support Group.

“I like the confidentiality,” she says “I think people are more free to express what they really feel.”

A member of Resurrection Parish, Judy enjoys the fact that parishioners from many different churches come to the group, and that it is a faith-based.

“We start and end with a prayer, and that is important to me,” she says. “It makes it real when you talk about the death of someone you love, and you need the support.”

Judy attended other groups before the one at St. Thomas, but she grew to feel most comfortable with this one. Along the way, she also has learned to appreciate all different types of loss. 

“There are parents who have lost children, adults who’ve lost parents or siblings, other women like me, men who have lost wives – grief is pretty universal,” she says. 

“Some people don’t want to go because they think it will be too depressing. I didn’t feel that way, I feel supported. We are a bunch of people supporting each other,” she says. “A group of friends.”

For more information on grief support ministries, visit or call your local parish.