April Gammon realizes she will never be the same. She's faced her biggest fear and she is surviving. She takes each day at a time. It's been nearly five years since her son Dustan succumbed to leukemia.
He fought it through high school. He rarely complained, was brave and persevered until he could fight no longer. He died just weeks after he managed to walk the line at his high school graduation.
For his mother April, the fog of grief is no longer a shroud, but has lifted a little with years of contemplation, acceptance and counseling.
Now, April has managed to turn that grief into something good. She is helping others who need a respite to restore their souls, find a shoulder and learn the foundation for successful change on many levels.
She is the Mt. Juliet YMCA Restore Center coordinator. The center is located at the YMCA office off Lebanon Road and there are several different options where people can go to learn how to "restore" their lives on a myriad of levels.
"I really wish I had known about Restore when Dustan died," said April. "I would have learned I was not alone. Isolation is the worst. It's nice to learn about triumphs, and yes, failures, and learn from them. We aren't there to fix anyone, but to listen and encourage in a positive way."
Restore was founded 10 years ago at the Green Hills YMCA by Scott Reall.
"He was dealing with alcoholism and other addictions," said April.
Restore is made up of two services - counseling and small groups. April said by participating in a small group, people are challenged to confront areas where they have lost hope and be empowered to make steps toward changes. The program is offered in over 15 YMCA's of Middle Tennessee and April has led several groups over the past year.
Three new groups will start this month, and all will use the Journey to Freedom book written by Reall. They are eight week groups and start next week. April explained that the sessions will lay the foundation for successful change in peoples' lives in a "supportive, caring and confidential environment." The sessions will help participants locate the areas in their lives that need improvement; discover the roles that self esteem, fear, relationships and faith play in your life.
"They are geared to help you find hope and live life to your full potential," she said.
April said that the small groups are not Bible studies. But, if a participant talks about their faith they will not be stopped.
"We look at our lives and find what we are doing that is working, and what is not working, and set up an action plan," she said. She said that leading the groups has really helped her.
"Each time I facilitate I find healing," said April. "We all have stuff in our lives."
While April received help to deal with the overwhelming grief she's lived with since Dustan died, she said people experience different kinds of grief. People grieve when they go through a divorce or if they watch loved ones making wrong decisions.
"It's not always about losing a loved one through death," she said.
Betsy Hall is also a facilitator of the groups. She said she had seen brochures at the YMCA about Restore and automatically thought it was a group for those trying to deal with life-threatening addictions.
"I thought, 'oh, that probably is not related to me,'" she said.
Betsy said she had been in a very long term relationship that "didn't work out." She said she was getting to the place where she was isolating herself.
"I thought I would get married and live a long, happy life with this man," she said. "So, yes, I was grieving at the loss of that relationship."
That was four years ago. She said the group helped her tremendously and made her realize she was not alone. An ordained minister, Betsy said she also relieved stress by eating and shopping. The groups helped her deal with this. She started leading groups in 2009.
"They are a safe place to talk about your issues and what the possible triggers are," she said. "You learn the language to talk about problems and there are many "ah-ha" moments for people. When we get together and realize basically, on different levels, we are going through the same things."
April said she thinks it's good for people to start out the groups with Journey to Freedom. Other groups include Journey to Life of Significance, which helps people deal with low self esteem; Journey to Living with Courage, which helps people face their fears; Journey to a New Beginning After Loss, which helps people deal with the pain of disappointment; and Journey to Healthy Living, which helps people live a healthy balanced lifestyle.
April said some people feel there is pressure to "heal" in eight weeks, or 15 weeks, depending on the length of a particular group.
"But this is a lifetime journey," she said.
There will be two different groups for women in Journey to Freedom. The Tuesday group begins March 26 from 7-8:30 p.m. and Thursday's group begins March 28 from 9:30-11 a.m. There is a men's group on Saturdays beginning March 30 from 8-9:30 a.m.
April may be reached at 773-5363 ext. 73216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing Editor Laurie Everett may be reached at 444-3952 ext. 46 or email@example.com