Grief can be crushing, overpowering, paralyzing. Erin Jones, 40, a social worker in Cartersville, Georgia, lost her mother when she was 24. But she tamped down that grief, avoiding it for four years, until Thanksgiving night in 2008, when she started crying and couldn’t stop. Erin, who lost her father in 2014, figured she wasn’t alone in trying to cope with heavy grief. In 2015 she started a free support group called Onward, at first with the idea to offer help during the difficult holiday time, but the sessions grew into a once a month chance for listening, counseling, understanding, sharing resources and hugs.
Describe your volunteer role.
I facilitate the support group I started in 2015 called Onward, a mental health initiative under the e.Piphany Concepts umbrella that lets people know they aren’t alone in their feelings of grief and sadness – that they’re not crazy. They come for two hours, we share and there is no cost for the session. As a therapist, I create a trusted space, a place they can release all of their feelings about grief and loss without judgement.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Watching the clients go from being anxious and very sad to getting their balance back slowly. I tell them if I work myself out of this group, I would be pleased. Seeing people evolve because they don’t feel so alone is rewarding. It’s also wonderful to watch the group dynamic unfold as they help each other.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I have learned that grief is the ultimate sucker punch. You can be fine some days, then it hits you. I have also learned to marvel at the resilience of the human spirit. We have the ability to adjust to something as devastating as a death and know that things are not ever going to be the same, but we can still have a great life. Move onward – which is why I named the group that.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
I’ve just done some workshops on balance and self-care for our local Talatoona Bartow Head Start program and I’m looking forward to doing more community partnerships. People underestimate how much stress can affect our daily mental wellness.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
In this age, with social media so prevalent, people need to connect. They are struggling for validation, struggling to belong. We all have to contribute, for the sake of ourselves, our families. Making the time to connect with others is critical for all of us.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
You can’t ignore grief. If you don’t deal with it, it will deal with you through sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, hypertension. That kind of emotional stress keeps our body in flight or fight mode – it’s toxic and we have to be mindful about it.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Erin? Find local volunteer opportunities