Judy Grindle of Guthrie, would be among the first to say her life has been productive and rewarding. Married for 43 years to her high-school sweetheart, she and her husband Jerry raised three children together and saw their family expand to include four grandchildren. She also enjoyed a fulfilling professional career as an administrative assistant at OU Medical Center Edmond for 15 years. No matter what the role or task of the moment, she thrived as a caregiver and problem-solver on behalf of others.
A series of events over a relatively short period of time brought life-changing consequences that forced a shift in nearly every aspect of the life Grindle had known. Certainly, a “normal day” was no longer a matter of routine. The ripple effects became a tidal wave and she realized her own strength and resolve were not enough. Today, she credits the THRIVE program at OU Medical Center Edmond for helping her find the way back to a life of meaning and purpose.
“The program turned my life around,” said Grindle. “In fact, it probably saved my life.”
Retirement in 2008, marked the loss of established connections and a way of life. Managing a full-time workload that encompassed a variety of duties, Grindle was at some level a caregiver even at work. Knowing that she would eventually retire didn’t prepare her for the jolting reality she experienced when the time arrived.
Grindle welcomed the responsibilities and opportunities being a grandparent offered. She counts it a privilege and a blessing that she was able to be a primary caregiver for the entire first year of each of her grandchildren’s lives. Madison is now 12; twins Gracie and Ethan are 7; and Avery, 4. She also was a “first responder” of sorts, caring for aging parents and in-laws. But in only a few years, dramatic and tragic losses began to stack up, taking a toll on Grindle’s emotional reserves and strength:
* In 2012, an accident took the life of Grindle’s daughter, age 27.
* Three sisters in their early- to mid-50s, died in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Chronic health concerns were being medically managed, yet complications of heart disease and diabetes ultimately resulted in death.
* After a massive stroke, Grindle’s husband became totally dependent and she was his sole caregiver for six months. “I did everything for him. It was his worst nightmare – to be imprisoned in a body that could no longer function.” He passed away in 2017.
“It was like being adrift in an ocean - with no compass, no life preserver and no land in sight,” Grindle recalled. As a family, Grindle and her surviving children supported each other as best they could. But her losses were shared as deeply by her children and grandchildren. “They had lost their dad, a sibling, a grandfather, aunts who were like their ‘other mothers’ – they had to cope with their own feelings and try to comfort their little ones, too. We tried not to lean on each other very hard.”
More adversity followed.
* In 2018, Grindle’s life-long best friend passed away. The two had grown up together, went to the same church, participated regularly in various activities, socialized and spent time together on weekends. Their husbands died two weeks apart. Arriving at the friend’s home on a Saturday morning for their weekly girls’ day, Grindle sensed something wasn’t right - and it was Grindle who discovered her friend’s lifeless body.
* Grindle experienced two seizures within a six-week period in the spring of 2019. She was an inpatient for nearly a week at OU Medical Center Edmond, where she learned the seizures were likely the result of a change in medication. While providers successfully adjusted medications and dosage, by law, Grindle was restricted from driving for six months. The time and circumstances only magnified her lost independence and feelings of isolation.
After successfully addressing the seizures, hospital staff strongly recommended the THRIVE program and encouraged Grindle to use the support resources that are available. Specifically developed to address the unique challenges faced by adults age 55 and older, the THRIVE Intensive Outpatient Program employs evidence-based techniques that improve symptoms of anxiety, trauma, depression, grief and loss.
Yet, Grindle was reluctant to seek professional help. “Mental health was something that people just didn’t discuss. After all, I was a strong, independent woman who had faced adversity and surmounted many difficult life challenges. I believed ‘toughing it out’ was the way to cope,” said Grindle. “Some still judge mental illness as a kind of character flaw or weakness, and nobody wants that.”
When introduced to the program, Grindle said it was important to her that she was invited and encouraged - never pushed, prodded or strong-armed. “The benefits were explained and the door was open. The next steps were up to me,” she said.
The program eliminates a potential obstacle or excuse she and others might otherwise use to avoid going – transportation. “They provided it so I went,” she said. “I wasn’t sold on the group therapy part of the program, not because of the people, but because I was embarrassed. I felt that I should be able to sort things out on my own. It was hard to come to grips with the fact that, as determined as I was, the circumstances life had thrown my way were too big to tackle alone.”
She courageously took the next step and began attending three sessions each week, meeting with the same group throughout. The meetings focus on grief and loss, and help participants understand that, while their grief may be unique, the stages and processes are not. They learn ways to manage a range of thoughts and emotions that, although normal, may complicate the process. Further, they explore and practice healthy coping skills. On a practical level, Grindle realized there was still much to learn. New ways of thinking and different perspectives allowed her to regain her mental and emotional footing.
Through her participation in the program, Grindle understood that she certainly was not alone. She found not judgement, but validation. “As we shared our experiences and stories, we learned how much we had in common.” She began to see that spot of dry land in the vast ocean and came to hope for more than mere survival.
Finding that common ground also paved the way to new, lasting friendships. “When everything is out of control, that’s when you understand what community really is. Sometimes, our paths intersect for a moment and we move on. Other times, the roads may be parallel and continue in similar directions for a long while. We’re here to help each other.”
Grindle’s formal participation in the THRIVE program will continue into January – the anniversary of Jerry’s death. Her group will be there to see her through this milestone. While THRIVE as a program does not coordinate formal reunions, Grindle is confident that members of the group will be in touch from time to time.
The magnitude of Grindle’s experience has served to make her more aware of the basic needs people share. She understands it may be awkward or uncomfortable to engage in conversation with someone who is grieving the death of a loved one or struggling with other forms of loss, but she offers this admonition:
“Maybe it’s a chance encounter at the grocery store, the mall or your grandkid’s soccer tournament. Don’t look away and miss the opportunity to validate that person’s pain. Acknowledge the life of the one who is now gone. Share something you remember about them. It’s not magic. In fact, it may be clumsy. Something so simple is so powerful – to be able to help people through that whole process of coming to terms with their loss.”