Griev­ing mother be­comes coun­selor in hopes of help­ing others

Lo­cal hospices also of­fer pri­vate and group sup­port meet­ings

Maryland Independent - - News - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @Dan­danEn­tNews

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.

STAFF PHOTO SBY DANDAN ZOU

Melinda Rup­pert sits in her of­fice in Me­chan­icsville.

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