Discovering ‘Good Grief’

By Ethan Hoagland
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

C.S. Lewis once wrote in A Grief Rediscovered: “I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.” Many people could probably recite the five stages of grief like the back of their hand. It has been imagined as a hole, a shadow or a lingering icy touch. Everyone will come to reckon with grief and loss, as they will come to reckon with their own mortality. If it never goes away, if it has the capacity to break a person, how can someone process their grief and go on living?

That’s one of the questions “Good Grief” hopes to answer. The event, hosted by Sweet Home Evangelical Church, takes place on Sunday, Nov. 19. Organized by Rachel Maynard, Anita Hutchins and Pastor Ed Skipper, the event will start with a worship service led by Pastor Skipper, then pivot to a “How to Process Grief” seminar in the afternoon.

Kennedy Swensen, 6, left, and Zachary Maynard, also 6. Kennedy recovered from severe injuries. Zachary died in a hospital several days after the accident. File photo

Each of the organizers has had their lives unalterably shaped by loss. Rachel Maynard lost her son Zach to a jet ski accident at Lewis Creek Park in 2020 when he was six.

“He was an adorable little six year old,” Maynard said. Zach was playing in the water and looking for fish with his friends, including Kennedy Swenson, when the riderless jet ski struck the two of them. Kennedy survived, but Zach lost his life.

“Kennedy got released from the hospital about the same moment Zach’s heart stopped,” Maynard recalled. Though she had to make the unthinkable return home from the hospital without her son, the Sweet Home community was ready to embrace the heartbroken family. Hundreds gathered along Long Street to show their support.

“The amount of support was overwhelming. My best friend from California was there and she was like, ‘this would never happen at home,'” Maynard said. “Even to this day the community support has been incredible.”

RACHEL MAYNARD speaks during the dedication of a new Waterloo Park playground structure. File photo

Maynard said for her, it’s easy to want to push down her grief. Meeting with a women’s grief group in town helped her start to process the endless journey. She also knew she needed to find ways to help her son William, Zach’s younger brother, navigate the complex sorrows of outgrowing his big brother. Now she wants to help members of the Sweet Home community find their footing on the nebulous, ever-twisting path of grief.

“A lot of our topic is getting the community to understand that it’s okay to talk about our loved ones. You’re not reminding us they died. We wrestle with that every single day. But coming up to us and telling me a Zach story,” Maynard said, “that’s one of the best things you can do.”

That’s a sentiment shared by co-organizer Anita Hutchins. She lost her daughter Carlene to illness in 2020 when Carlene was 57.

“She was the bubbly apple of every body’s eye,” Hutchins said. She and Carlene worked together at Little Promises, a Christian child care center founded by Hutchins. Carlene also worked with the Oregon Jamboree.

When doctors told Carlene she could stay in the hospital or go home on hospice to her family, Carlene chose to return to her loved ones. “We enjoyed our last three months together. It was not a morbid time.” But once Carlene passed, Hutchins said she withdrew from expressing her grief.

“People are very uncomfortable when you lose someone,” Hutchins said. “They don’t want to upset you, so they don’t ask. Therefore, you don’t talk about them.”

When the women’s grief group invited Hutchins to join, she initially laughed off the idea of talking with strangers about one of the most harrowing experiences of her life.

“I finally did go. And it was the best thing I found,” she said. Now she wants to pay that forward with this Sunday’s “Good Grief” event.

Pastor Ed Skipper lost his father when he was a teenager. Understanding the profound grief moving within him gave him a lifelong purpose.

“I did not process it properly,” Skipper said. “It’s only in the last few years that I’ve realized some of the effects of that unprocessed grief.” He threw himself into researching grief, talking to people who made processing grief their careers and presiding over memorial services.

During the starting worship service, Skipper will discuss the role of faith and hope in grief.

“Basically that grief is not a random process, it’s a God-given process with a purpose, though it seems very random and out of control at the time,” he said. Following the service, he’ll present what he calls the “four F’s:” faith, feelings, family and friends.

The event is sponsored by The Wendi Melcher Team at Cadwell Realty Group, Melcher Logging, Cutting Inc., and The Grief Group at Sweet Home Evangelical Church. The worship service starts at 10:30 a.m. The seminar starts at 3 p.m.