Flashbacks. Loneliness. Hard times around holidays, especially Christmas.
These are the symptoms of grief that Ken Usher knows all too well. In less than two years, he lost a loved one to cancer, then began healing—only to relive the nightmare once again.
Ken first came in contact with Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR) in February 2016, after the death of his wife, Elaine. A funeral director suggested that BFO-MR’s Living with Loss program might be helpful.
At first, Ken was skeptical.
“You don’t think you need it but after three or four sessions, you realize that it’s good to talk to someone in the same situation. You’re not quite alone,” he says.
By the end of the summer, Ken says, he was “starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.” And then, at BFO’s Butterfly Release, he met Christine.
Christine was a fellow BFO-MR member, whose husband had died. They would meet for coffee after group sessions and gradually the relationship deepened.
“We would just chit-chat for an hour and ‘see you in two weeks’ became ‘see you in two days’,” he says.
In the spring of 2017, they moved in together, but their happiness was short-lived.
Christine was diagnosed with lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy that summer. By August she was in remission and all seemed to be well. But by October, the cancer had returned. And this time it was deep in Christine’s brain and there was no cure.
Once again, Ken found himself witnessing the slow death of a loved one. By Christmas, Christine was in palliative care and Ken returned to BFO-MR.
“I needed to tell my story to people who would understand. Everybody remembered me from before and they remembered Christine. It was like going back to friends.”
Members of BFO-MR and Ken’s church community were there to support him when Christine died in January 2018, three months to the day after getting her final diagnosis.
“BFO-MR is there to support your thoughts, to support your concerns and support your frustrations. And there are some nights you go to group and you’re very down, but when you leave, you’re encouraged and looking forward to the next day.”
What advice does he have for others who might be considering joining a BFO-MR support group?
“Get involved. Go to the sessions, participate in the events. Don’t think you have to get through this by yourself. You can’t fully anticipate grief or even fully understand grief, but BFO-MR can give you encouragement.”
It’s a message he feels that men, in particular, need to hear.
“Men are supposed to be strong,” Ken says. “What my experience has taught me is that there’s nothing wrong with not being strong for a moment. And the more you admit that you’re not strong, the better it is for you in the long run. You have to get the grief dealt with, you have to get it released from your system, so you can manage day-to-day better.”
There are still hard days, like when he visits a greenhouse and remembers picking out plants with Elaine. Or thinks back to his last Christmas with Christine. But Ken continues to attend Living with Loss and events for the support, fellowship and the chance to help others.
“They’re caring people who get what you’re going through. You get encouragement from people who’ve been grieving much longer than yourself. And I think that’s where I am in the grief journey right at the moment. I’m feeling much better. And now I feel I can listen to someone else’s story and say ‘You know what? You’re going to be okay.’”