Melodie Austin tells the story of the woman who attended Grief Share, a program to help those grieving the death of loved ones, after losing her husband.

“This girl came, and she was so broken,” recalled Austin, seminar organizer and a member of the 1st United Methodist Church of Punta Gorda. “She and her husband had done everything together, and he died, and her world was gone. She sobbed her way through the program, just sobbed. She just couldn’t stand the pain.

“I saw an incredible change in her. A few weeks in, she slapped her lap and said, ‘I’m sick of this. I’m sick of the pain. I’m sick of the loneliness. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get through it.”

That woman will be volunteering for the upcoming eighth session of Grief Share.

Grief Share is the second half of a two-pronged approach to providing guidance to those who are lost in grief.

The first is a free half-day seminar called Surviving the Holidays. Focused on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the annual seminar will be offered from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 17 in the Life Center of the 1st United Methodist Church of Punta Gorda, 507 W. Marion Ave. The deadline for registration is Nov. 12. The seminar comes with a full breakfast. Sixty-seven people attended last year’s seminar.

“It’s for anyone who has lost a loved one within the last week, the last month, the last year, the last 10 years,” Austin said. “They’re faced with, ‘How am I going to get through the holidays? Everyone else is merry and bright and having this wonderful time with family and friends, and my world has ended. How am I going to survive?’

“The pain seems to be magnified because everyone else is having a good time. People think there’s something wrong with them because they can’t get into the spirit. Of course they can’t. They’re grieving.

“This seminar can give them hope. We will walk this journey with them”

The seminar can be used as a lead-in to Grief Share, a 13-week support program where people meet in groups to assist one another. The program starts Jan. 8 with a two-hour session beginning at 6:30 p.m. It also will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays beginning Jan. 9. There is no charge; however, the accompanying workbook costs $20. Scholarships are available.

The seminar and program are faith-based, but a person need not be a member of the church or follow a specific spiritual dogma.

Austin became involved seven years ago after her husband and daughter died within a month of each other.

“I was a basket case,” she said. “I stuffed it, because I’d always been real strong. My kids would say, ‘Wow, Mom, you’re so strong. And it was a lie. I was dying inside.”

A friend recommended she attend Grief Share, a network of churches that offers help to people struggling with grief.

“This isn’t my ministry,” Austin said. “It’s God’s. I’m just the middle man. But I get to see incredible miracles.”

To register, contact Austin at 941-639-4402, or email melharryaustin@yahoo.com. For more information, go to www.whatis1st.com/holidays.

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