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Midway woman brings hope and support to grief community

Emily Chu

It’s National Grief Awareness Week and this Midway woman recently founded a free grief support group to provide healing for herself and others. 

Emily Chu moved to Midway a year ago and shortly thereafter, she lost her corporate job, her grandmother and a partnership–all while struggling to adjust to life as a new mom.

As she navigated her grief, she became anxious and depressed. When her job ended, she lost her insurance and the out-of-pocket expenses for therapy became overwhelming. So, six months ago, she started looking for ways to help herself–and others–and formed a grief support group.

 “It was a challenge in the beginning," she said. "I mean, no one really wants to show up for a group where they feel like, ‘Oh, it's going to be maybe a cry festival.’ We didn't want it to be like that. We wanted it to be more of a resource on how you could get help for wellness and loss and grief support in general.”

Chu said the free group meets once a month on Wednesdays at the Snake Creek Clubhouse. Attendance fluctuates between 10-20 people. They have an optional “open share,” a teen artist performance and a professional speaker, all of which have set her on a path to healing.

“And when I wake up in the morning, before, I used to pull the covers over my head," she said. "But with some of these tools and resources that I've gotten, I've been doing these breathing exercises and different things. And everything hits a little bit differently for a different person. And that's why we have different guest speakers every single time. Because it's not a one fit; people grieve in different ways. There's so many stages of grief and loss.”

Dr. Michael Heder is a family practice physician at Heber City Family Practice. He was asked to speak to the group about the physical impacts of grief that can include a compromised immune system because the body transfers all its energy to help you cope.

He said one of the obvious ways we grieve is by crying which can actually be healthy. Scientists have found there are a few kinds of tears: basal tears that keep our eyes lubricated. Reflex tears to protect our eyes from irritants. Emotional tears contain stress hormones and by shedding those tears, it also releases oxytocin and endorphins.

“These tears are actually natural painkillers," he said. "And so when you're going through grief, it's important that you give yourself time to cry. It's your body's response and it’s a way to help you heal. And so it's interesting that in our tears, we have it as healing properties. Don't suppress the tears, but give yourself time and moments to cry because it's helping you.”

Dr. Heder said when people are dealing with loss it helps to increase what he calls “happy hormones:” serotonin (sunlight, complex carbohydrates), oxytocin (physical touch), endorphins (laughter, exercise) and dopamine (high-protein foods and sleep).

He said it is normal to try to increase all these hormones and still be deficient, in which case he recommended meeting with a medical professional. He also recommends people try to stop focusing on what life once was and to put energy into the people at their side, which immediately takes the focus away from their grief.

Chu said her new community has helped.

“It's really easy to pull the covers over your head and not acknowledge that you're going through different stages of grief and loss," she said. "But there are people out here that want to help. And there is a community that is also going through stuff. And as hard as it is to show up sometimes, it's harder to be alone during the winter time.”

Dr. Heder agrees. “There's a quote that I like: ‘You drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it.’ And so I encourage all patients to try to do their best. There are always things that you can do to reach out to others, reach out to family, and find ways that you can help others around you.”

And, especially over the holidays, to remind ourselves and others that we are not alone.