Grief educator created her own network when one did not exist

by Joyce A. Mitchell

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — After the death of her husband Trent, Kay Cozad was sometimes so angry she couldn’t talk to God.

She was only 33 — and their daughters only four and two — when Trent was killed in a car accident in 1990.

Although she made the rounds of the grief support groups in her hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., they were not for her. Comprised mostly of older women gathering to visit and play cards, Cozad couldn’t find in the groups what she so desperately needed — spiritual support.

She wound up, in fact, leaving the church for a year and a half.

But as time passed, she began to realize that maybe there were other women out there who could benefit from her experience.

So in 2000, she founded a new group for women called Hope in the Mourning.

“I designed it around what I had wished for as a faith-based support system,” said Cozad, now 50. She invited about 70 widows who were on her church’s roster to an orientation meeting. When 30 came to the very first meeting, the group developed quickly into a ministry that meets twice monthly with shared prayer, music and ceremony.

Cozad eventually authored a book called “Prayer Book for Widows” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004) and even went on to establish a men’s support group in Fort Wayne as well.

She is now bringing her message to Catholics in the archdiocese through an Oct. 13 seminar to be held at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park. The event, which will mark the second anniversary of Ascension’s bereavement support group, “Learning to Live After the Death of a Spouse” starts with Mass at 8:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. The program itself will begin about 9 and last until noon.

The experiential seminar involves writing and drawing exercises, as well as a remembering ceremony. Catholics and non-Catholics, both men and women, would benefit, said Cozad.

“Grief is nondenominational,” she noted.

The seminar is an extended format of the bereavement group’s regular meeting, which has a memorial Mass on the second Saturday each month, followed by a speaker or a discussion session. The discussions are led by parishioners Karen and Dennis Schemmel, a counselor and psychologist, respectively.

“It’s a chance to do the talking and to hear ideas about how to cope,” Karen Schemmel said.

She and her husband started the group at the request of their pastor, Msgr. Tom Tank, who asked them to investigate bereavement support groups, especially for Catholics. They modeled their program after one established at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood.

When a parishioner loses a spouse, Karen Schemmel said, a committee member will contact them to let them know about the group. For some widows and widowers, their loss is too fresh for them to be interested; they need more time to adjust before they feel ready to take part. That’s why the committee will make contact again after three months and at the one-year anniversary, often a hard time.

“We send a note that we’re out there if they are still hurting and that this might be a place for them,” she said. Some people come just once and feel that is enough to help them move on; others attend for a full year or return at difficult times.

“You come to a new normal. You start to make your own life changes.”

Cost for the Cozad seminar is $10 per person (checks payable to Church of the Ascension, 9510 W. 127th St, Overland Park KS 66213). Reservations are needed by Oct. 10.

For more information, contact Jean Hinman at (913) 681-3348.

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