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Good News Fridays: Community Grief Support Lightens Hearts With Alabama Memorial Tree And Counseling

Welcome to the Good News Fridays segment!  Each week here on Geek Alabama, Good News Fridays will feature something good, wholesome, positive, and overall something great. After a long and stressful week, we all need something good to read or watch on Fridays!  Enjoy a heartwarming post below!

Post by Donna Cope from Alabama NewsCenter

Janice Rogers, co-anchor at FOX 6 WBRC-TV, said this Christmas will be hard for her family without her beloved brother, Gene. Rogers has shared her story with Community Grief Support in Birmingham. (Photo courtesy of Janice Rogers)

The holidays can be bittersweet for those whose loved one or close friend has died.

Some may experience a fresh wave of grief at the realization they’ll spend their first Thanksgiving or holiday season without that person, said Lisa Harrison of Community Grief Support, a Birmingham nonprofit that provides free grief counseling and grief support groups for those who have experienced loss.

Janice Rogers, co-anchor at FOX 6 WBRC-TV, lost her older brother, Gene, on March 1, 2021. She and other members of the close-knit Rogers clan are trying to prepare emotionally for their first Christmas without Gene.

Her brother’s death came unexpectedly. More than once, Rogers has dreamed about receiving the frightening FaceTime call about Gene. Rogers had spoken with her brother earlier that day. Her niece, Rachel, who is deaf, called later, and used sign language to indicate that something was terribly wrong. Rogers signed back for Rachel to point the phone’s camera at Gene so that she could see him. He lay on his bed, unmoving. Rogers called 911, then ran to her car and quickly drove to her brother’s home.

Tragically, by the time paramedics arrived, Gene, who was 72, had died of a massive heart attack.

“It was one of the most horrible days of my life,” said Rogers, a Hoover resident. “I think it was harder to move on, because it was such a shock.”

Since then, Rogers has found a healing balm in sharing her story with others.

Lisa Harrison (Community Grief Support)

Community Grief Support aims to help

Helping people to process and deal with their intense feelings of grief – particularly after the loss of a spouse, child, family member or close friend – is the aim of Community Grief Support, whose founding sponsor is Alabama Power. Since 1996, the Birmingham nonprofit has provided free counseling and mental-health support services to more than 60,000 bereaved adults.

Harrison wants those who are hurting to know they can find professional counseling and a listening ear at Community Grief Support. Since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Harrison noted, assistance is greatly needed as more people experience even more loneliness and isolation.

“We’ve seen a 40 percent increase in the number of people asking for counseling since March of last year,” said Harrison, who has worked at Community Grief Support since 2004. “They’re grieving in a more complicated way. They were isolated from their loved ones, and don’t have an outlet for their grief. There’s PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a communal grief.”

Steve Sweatt (Community Grief Support)

Health insurance isn’t needed because the nonprofit covers all costs for professional counselors and facilitators of support groups, including all materials and resources.

Community Grief Support Co-director Steve Sweatt coordinates clinical programming and manages the nonprofit’s numerous counseling programs, created for parents who have lost adult children; widowers; and support for those who have lost a parent, sibling or grandparent.

“All of our services – grief counseling, grief support groups and community education – are completely free,” Harrison said. “Because our services our free, we get all funding from corporations, foundations and fundraisers such as our memorial tree project.”

Memorial tree spurs remembrance 

On Saturday, Nov. 6, with the help of the Homewood Parks and Recreation Board, the nonprofit installed its first memorial tree in Homewood. The 12-foot tree in Central Park – at the corner of Oxmoor Road and Central Avenue – is easy to see, thanks to its 3-foot star and 2,000 twinkling mini-lights. Signs in the area thank volunteers and donors for helping the nonprofit.

“The memorial tree will honor people we’ve lost in the community and to COVID-19,” Harrison said. “We felt that it was needed to help people honor those that they’ve lost. This seems the right time to do this project.”

Rogers said the tree will spark thoughts of Gene as she goes to and from WBRC-TV’s office at Red Mountain.

The public is encouraged to help illuminate the memorial tree through a Community Grief Support fundraiser. For $25, donors receive three memorial cards that are sent to the addresses of their choice, with a note that a light on the memorial tree is lit in the person’s name. With a $75 gift, donors receive three cards, a tree light and a beautiful, handmade pottery luminary. Designed and created by Alabama artist Lisa Bunting Howard, the luminary is decorated with hearts. Donors of $100 receive an antique gold ornament with their loved one’s name in calligraphy by Amber Rosenberg, owner of Party Pick Ups. A charcoal, velvet ribbon is included to hang the ornament, and donors also receive three memorial cards.

Harrison bought a light and an ornament in remembrance of her mother, who died in 1993.

“She was my best friend,” Harrison said. “I still really miss her, especially at the holidays.”

Because the blown-glass ornaments and luminaries are delicate, Community Grief Support won’t mail packages, and requests donors to pick up their box at Trinity United Methodist Church in Birmingham on Monday, Nov. 22, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The final day to receive ornaments is Monday, Dec. 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Trinity Methodist Church is at 1400 Oxmoor Road in Birmingham.

Rogers honors brother with ornament and lights

With the holidays around the corner, Rogers longed to remember her brother in a special way. To honor him, Rogers’ Christmas tree this year will include a lovely, gold ornament from Community Grief Support, adorned with Gene’s name.

Rogers talks openly about the ebbs and flows of grief experienced by her entire family. She wants to help others by sharing her knowledge about the Community Grief Support organization.

“I totally understand and feel like if people knew about them, they might be seeking help too,” she said.

Rogers plans to take part in activities with Community Grief Support, where she will share her story about healing in the aftermath of loss.

“Just talking with them and talking about what happened has already helped me a little, because this is going to be our first Thanksgiving, our first Christmas without my brother, and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves,” Rogers said.

“It’s about remembering them and what they meant to you, and celebrating them,” she added. “Without this, I don’t know that I would have really thought about it in that way. I may have dealt with it a little bit differently. I think this is a great way, and if it can help anybody else feel that way, too, it’s such a great help.”

Rogers and her sister have since taken Rachel under their wing. They want to make the holidays as joyous and positive as possible.

“I have a husband, I have a son and a family – you have to keep going for other people,” Rogers said. “I think talking with Community Grief Support and celebrating how they’re doing it has me kind of go, ‘You know what, we’re going to celebrate Gene, and remember what he meant to our lives, not to be sad, as much as we could be.’”

How to contact Community Grief Support

The first step to inner healing after losing a loved one is to find the support you need. For assistance, call Harrison at Community Grief Support at 205-870-8667.

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