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Ground broken for Community Grief Center

For decades Dr. Robert Swint has dealt with the family members of those who’ve died.

A cardiologist with Lutheran Medical Group, Swint would feel for those survivors, would tell them what he thought they needed to hear and do his best to ease their pain.

But it wasn’t until his wife died a year and a half ago that he truly felt what it was like to be on the other side of the equation.

“I fell into an abyss,” he said.

“I was disoriented and paralyzed,” he continued. “I couldn’t tell what time of day it was.”

Wednesday, Swint was on hand to help unveil the groundbreaking of what will be a new Community Grief Center geared toward adults who’ve lost loved ones to disease, car accidents or homicides.

The center will be located on the campus of Visiting Nurse, a hospice on the southwest side of town.

Swint is also the co-chair of a capital campaign committee to raise money for the center, which is to raise a total of $4.6 million for the construction, of which $4 million has already been raised.

Services at the center will be offered free.

“Our job here is to give (survivors) comfort and joy,” Swint told a large crowd, including Mayor Tom Henry, who gathered at Visiting Nurse to celebrate the groundbreaking.

“Our goal is to try to give them coping,” he continued.

The center is being constructed to give people a more comfortable place to come to address grief, officials said.

Some people may not want to go into a hospice, or find it hard to meet with a grief counselor there. The center, which is expected to be completed in May or June of next year, will have Visiting Nurse’s three grief counselors on staff as well as an administrative assistant and possibly, within a year, another social worker.

“The social worker will help with the complicated needs folks have sometimes,” said Visiting Nurse spokeswoman Kris Rajchel.

“Some of the clients our counselors see have basic needs that aren’t being met,” Rajchel continued. “Maybe their water or electricity is going to be cut, and the social worker can set them up with resources. Our grief counselors say it’s hard to get them to focus if their basic needs are in jeopardy.”

Swint knows all about how that might happen.

His wife, Ruth Ann Swint, worked as a nurse at Visiting Nurse for six years before her death.

In an interview with The Journal Gazette, Swint spoke of the emotions involved while seeing a loved one dying.

He knew two months before his wife died that she was terminal, but even being a doctor he could not accept that fact, he said.

After her passing, he constantly asked himself whether he could’ve done something different.

He could see himself becoming withdrawn from his other family members; he couldn’t concentrate, could not even work.

He lost 35 pounds.

Friends would try to comfort him, try to tell him his wife was in a better place, but all that did - for whatever reason - was make him feel lonelier.

In other people, he’s seen grief cause heart disease, or hypertension, or even break up relationships or marriages about not dealing with the issue properly.

“You have to turn grief into mourning,” he said. “Grief is what’s inside, and then mourning is what you show on the outside.”

“If you don’t do that, that grief is going to come out in some way.”

And, he said, just like a lot of other men, he found it hard to seek real help.

He wants men especially to feel like they can come to the center and seek help for whatever emotions with which they might be struggling.

“We’re made to feel like we have to put on our big-boy pants,” Swint said.

Swint took on the role of co-chairing the capital campaign fund to honor his wife, and did so with hesitation.

She would tell him of the people she treated at Visiting Nurse, of her time there and of what the staff did for those who came there.

“She did so much,” he said. “She did so much for those who died here.”

Now, he feels he can help her legacy live on.