Support group has helped people move on for 25 years

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published July 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated July 12, 2013 at 10:22 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Some members of the THEOS group in Benton gather, carrying pictures of their late spouses. The organization, sponsored by Roller-Ballard Funeral Homes, provides support and social activities for widows and widowers. Seated, from the left, are Wanda Cody, Andy Alpe and Alita Cockman. Standing, from the left, are Shirley Laster, Nell Low, Becky Townsend, Gerry Goodin and Betty Ford.

— About 30 people, most well past 60 years old, were seated at several long tables in the community room of the Whispering Pines housing complex in Benton on Monday night.

It was easy to tell they are a close group by the way they reached for each other’s hands as they stood in prayer. After the prayer was over, they made their way to the buffet set up for them, except for the small group of ladies who headed straight to the dessert table.

There was plenty of spirited chatting going on, as well as the sound of laughter shared between longtime friends, but there were also some tears from first-time visitors, who sat at a table together alongside longtime members.

For 25 years, this group has been meeting in Benton; every member holds one thing in common — the loss of a spouse.

“I came here to find people who had gone through the same thing I had,” said Betty Ford of Benton, who lost her husband, Bill, 14 years ago. “I realized he was gone and would be for the rest of my life. I wanted to pick up the pieces and get busy. That has changed my life.”

The group is called THEOS; the letters stand for They Help Each Other Spiritually. The organization in Benton was formed 25 years ago this month by Ballard’s Funeral Home, which became Roller-Ballard Funeral Home in 1996.

“THEOS used to be a larger national organization, and the name stuck,” said Karen Carter, secretary of Roller-Ballard. “We just support the activities. We help at the beginning of the grief, and this is aftercare.”

Carter said group members meet every month, eat and talk, and often have outings together, such as an annual Christmas trip to Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs to see the garden’s Holiday Lights.

“After a death, the church and family are all around, but there comes a time when these people find themselves in an empty house, and they think they are the only one going through this,” she said. “Here they find out they are not alone.”

However, Gerry Goodin of Bryant, president of the Benton group, called THEOS an alternative to a grief group.

“We don’t ask anyone to go into how they lost their spouse, but if they want to talk about it, we will listen and be there for them,” she said. “Here we want to help them get back to the outside world.”

Goodin said she came to the organization 12 years ago, two years after her husband’s death.

“My children were by my side for two years, doing everything they could for me, but I said that needed to stop,” she said. “I wanted to get with people my own age who had something in common with me.”

Goodin said that bond of loss makes the group more than a social club.

“We are more than friends going out together,” she said. “We all face the same thing. Sometimes our loss is not mentioned while we enjoy ourselves, but if a person needs to cry and talk about it, it’s fine, and we know what they are feeling.”

Wanda Cody of Benton has been a member of the group for less than two years. She found out about the group when a member she didn’t know called and invited her to a meeting.

“It was good to get out of the house and have social activity,” Cody said. “I am meeting new people, and they give such warmth and love. They are so easy to talk to because we have something in common.”

While there are monthly meetings, the organization becomes a part of life for those who have experienced a loss, according to the members.

“You can call any of these people when you are down,” said Andy Alpe of Bryant, whose wife, Mary Jane, died five years ago. “These people have had the same hurt I had, and talking with them helps me out.”

Ford said she comes to the meetings to find understanding.

“Other women told me they understand what I am going through, but they still have their husbands, and they don’t understand. They have not had to live through it,” she said. “I can call a member at 10 at night, and we will talk, and it comforts me.”

On Tuesday night, THEOS members acknowledged 25 years of comfort and support provided by the organization.

“They are a very self-sufficient group,” said Carter, looking at the members talking together around the tables. “I am proud of them and to be a part of this.”

For information about THEOS in Benton, call Carter at (501) 315-4047.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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