Forging friendship from grief

The founders of Third Thursdays, a new group for people who have lost spouses, are shown at Roma’s in Owosso, where the meetings are held.

OWOSSO — After losing her husband to cancer a year ago, Trish Phillips tried online and in-person bereavement support groups, but they didn’t really help her feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Internet chatting was no replacement for in-person interactions. But the face-to-face support groups she found were for any bereaved person, not just for people who — like her — had lost a spouse.

Mutual friends introduced Phillips to Robin Durepo, whose husband died unexpectedly just two months before Phillips’ loss. They found out they had more than grief in common, and became friends. They decided to form Third Thursdays for other women and men in their situation.

The next session is set for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at Roma’s in Owosso.

“Online companionship in grief is helpful, but we all need real-life friends who ‘get it,’” said Phillips, 54, in Bennington Township. “Robin and I decided to create a way to find these friends.”

Durepo, 58, of Owosso, remembered Phillips saying, “Let’s start something,” to which she responded, “We’ve got to do it.”

The women were surprised when 16 people — 15 women and one man — showed up for the first event, hosted at Roma’s.

“It felt awesome,” Phillips said. “I was hoping for five.”

The attendees had dinner, chatted with each other and shared “fun facts” about themselves in order to get to know each other better. The Rev. Marlene Webster, who officiated at both Phillips’ and Durepo’s husbands’ funerals, gave an inspiring talk.

“I was really proud of everybody,” Phillips said. “Everyone participated.”

“Everybody seemed to mingle,” Durepo agreed. “I thought it was great.”

The women are hoping people who came to the first session will keep coming back and eventually form friendships with other attendees.

“I hope people will do things on the side: go to dinner, form a book club or go bowling,” Phillips said. “If they do that, friendships will be found.”

That’s what happened with Phillips and Durepo. They met for lunch and then dinner, visited the farmers market in Davison together, and even took a trip up to Copper Harbor in October.

“That’s what we’re hoping — that people will find somebody to go to dinner with,” Phillips said. “When you lose your spouse, you lose your automatic date.”

But don’t get the wrong idea: Third Thursdays is not a dating club. It’s for making friends and getting out of the house and doing fun things.

Having lost spouses doesn’t guarantee enough common ground to build a friendship, but it can be a start.

“This connection is important, because we all get it,” Phillips said. “It’s not like we don’t have friends or family, but they’re busy. It’s nice to have a companion to hang out with.”

Third Thursdays is not about expressing grief, either, though it’s OK if that happens.

“We’re trying to have the group not be about grief, but about friendship,” Durepo said.

She and Phillips are trying to get the word out about Third Thursdays, circulating a flier and reaching people through social media.

The group is open to anyone who has lost a spouse. There is no membership fee. For more information, call Durepo at (989) 634-5818 or email Phillips at trish@bruckmansmoving.net.

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