Sandy McCulloch knows the power of support groups. After three divorces and the realization that he was emotionally closed off, McCulloch found himself standing in the center of a group therapy session, shouting at the ceiling and bursting into tears in front of a room full of strangers.
|Casey Campbell | Gazette-Times Sandy McCulloch has formed a grief support group at the Corvallis Senior Center to help others cope with loss. While not a psychotherapist, McCulloch’s support group offers people an opportunity to share feelings|
That was the moment that McCulloch realized the truth of a Slavic saying: “Shared grief is half-grief, shared joy is twice joy,” meaning that by mourning, or publicly talking about grief, the weight of it is halved and becomes more bearable.
Now McCulloch has launched a twice-monthly grief support group at the Corvallis Senior Center in hopes of helping others lighten sorrow’s load. His expertise on the subject comes from hard-learned lessons that stretch back decades.
McCulloch, who is also a writer, began running divorce support groups in Berkeley, Calif. For eight years in the 1970s, he organized popular groups that drew up to 40 people a week.
In 1994, McCulloch moved to Corvallis, where one of his three children, Mark, works for Hewlett-Packard Co. In 2001, he traveled to Uzhgorod, Ukraine, which is Corvallis’ sister city, after he met a woman from Uzhgorod when she was visiting Corvallis on an exchange. His relationship with the woman didn’t work out, but he decided to stay in the city for a while. That’s when he met Natalia, the woman he rented a room from.
Their acquaintance bloomed into friendship and then love. They married, but Natalia refused to move away from her home and family, so McCulloch agreed to spend most of the year in Ukraine to be with her.
But he said that Natalia had a dark side, fueled by loneliness, depression and alcoholism. Her anger and sadness, self-medicated by vodka, drove her to hang herself in June 2006.
“That was the end of my love affair with Ukraine,” McCulloch said.
He returned to Corvallis and began attending a suicide support group, where he found the same kind of help he’d received as a younger man. He also gained some perspective when he began listening to all the parents who had lost teen children to suicide.
“It made me realize my troubles were nothing compared to theirs,” he said.
McCulloch is not a psychotherapist, so his regular meetings for the grieving are not therapy sessions. They offer instead a safe place for people to share their experiences and stories, so that they are not as alone in their suffering.
He said many people, especially men, are afraid to feel vulnerable and to offer public expressions of sadness, but his own experiences in group sessions have helped him learn how powerful mourning can be in the healing process.
McCulloch still keeps photographs of his wife in his apartment. He has realized, with help from others, that it’s OK to celebrate the good memories of her; that they endure, even after someone dies.
IF YOU GO
The grief support group meets the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at the Corvallis Senior Center. It is open to people of any age who have suffered a loss. The center is at 2601 N.W. Tyler Ave. For more information, contact McCulloch at 753-1088 or call the center at 766-6959.