Grieving mother becomes counselor in hopes of helping others
Local hospices also offer private and group support meetings
Throughout the ordeal of dealing with her son’s terminal illness and then his death, Melinda Ruppert said she was mentally exhausted by reality and wished she didn’t have to explain how she felt to her counselor.
Five years ago, she lost her 11-year-old son, Brogan, to diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas, a rare, aggressive brain tumor that is incurable.
At the time, the Ruppert family saw different counselors. No one had a similar experience, as she had hoped for.
That experience is partially why she decided to become a counselor: to fill the gap she saw in grief counseling. She wants to be the person she had wanted to talk to when she needed it the most — someone who went through what she experienced with the loss of a child.
After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2013, Ruppert worked for Calvert Hospice as a bereavement coordinator for three years, where her job responsibilities focused on project development and grief counseling.
After hearing many heartbreaking stories, instead of feeling depressed and depleted, Ruppert felt inspired and blessed to be in the space where people share stories of their loved ones.
“People always ask me how I deal with” the loss of her son. “I carry him with me every day,” she said. “Every day, I know he’s with me.”
As a grieving mother herself, the stories she hears of others being able to find meaning, purpose and joy in the midst of sorrow and heaviness inspire her, and help her cope with her own loss.
“When I talk to somebody, they will say something that is a gift to me,” she said. “I see someone struggling, the way they are handling it gives me hope.”
Since she was a teenager, Ruppert was drawn to people who were going through hard times. She described herself as “a good listener” and the type of person who friends and family members go to to share secrets and troubles. That part of her personality, she believes, can be tracked back to the traumatic experiences she had during her formative years.
When she was about 7 years old living in Brandywine in Prince George’s County, her next-door playmate was accidentally shot and killed by the girl’s brother. Later, when she was a teenager, two cousins of hers were killed in separate car accidents within a year.
At the time, “counseling wasn’t a thing,” she said. “We were left to try to figure it out on our own.”
Last fall, Ruppert started her private counseling business specializing in grief and loss, which includes losing a loved one, a pet, a relationship or a job. She is one of about two dozen private counselors in St. Mary’s County, according to listings on Psychology Today.
Depending on timing and situations, Ruppert shares parts of her story when she deems appropriate. At times, she would get emotional and tear up. “You are human. You are not a statue,” she said.
Ruppert described her counseling style as a companion who walks along with her clients and guide them through their journeys.
Fees for Ruppert’s sessions are determined on an individual basis and she said she offers the first session for free to figure out if she’s the right counselor for the client.
Other than private counselors, local hospices also offer grief support groups and private sessions.
Hospice of St. Mary’s offers county residents free one-on-one sessions where they can ask questions and focus on talking about their situations, said Meredith English, a bereavement coordinator for hospice.
With group meetings, “what they get out of the session is knowing that they are not alone,” English said, adding that people develop friendships, provide support for one another and learn about tools and resources from that setting.
Depending on individual needs, hospice workers said some may find group meetings more beneficial, while others may prefer private sessions.
The St. Mary’s hospice now hosts a six-week spousal loss group on Wednesdays from 2 to 3 p.m. A children’s group is scheduled to start in late August in the early evening. When the new school year starts, there will be a six-week teen group meeting.
Walden in St. Mary’s also offers free support groups. Several local chapters of nonprofit organizations, such as the Compassionate Friends, host free monthly grief support group meetings as well.
Calvert Hospice offers several free support group meetings and private sessions for up to $25 per session.
Private grief counselor Melinda Ruppert of Mechanicsville has a photo of her and her son, Brogan, in a frame next to a gumball machine in her office.
Melinda Ruppert sits in her office in Mechanicsville.