BRANDON — It was the phone call that no wife ever wants to receive. For Melanie Terrell, it came on Memorial Day five years ago.
"When I got the news that Rob had had some kind of diving accident, I knew he was gone," she said. "I guess I accepted his death but I had no realization of the sadness that would follow because Rob had such a vibrant energy and suddenly it was gone."
It was later determined that Terrell's husband had accidentally drowned while on a scuba diving trip. She was left widowed with a 2-year-old son, Alexander.
She remembers the support she got from her family and friends, as well as the sympathy she received from Jaca DePriest at Bell Shoals Baptist Church. DePriest invited her to a meeting that addressed widows' specific needs and gave them a forum to freely air their feelings.
DePriest, 65, leader of the widow ministry, is well acquainted with the widows' journey because she lost her husband, Lawton, to cancer.
"For me it was difficult to come back to church," DePriest said. "People expect us to be fine in six months to a year when many of us don't begin to even process that grief."
Realizing that the Christian community had dropped the ball in properly recognizing widows' needs, DePriest started a multifaceted program that would provide more than just a social luncheon every month.
"I call myself an advocate for widows," she said. "As I learned the different stories, I found I was able to connect some dots with other folks." With the support of her church, DePriest established a system where new widows of all ages could be assigned to a couple that would be available to help them. Counseling sessions now help widows cope with difficult anniversaries and holidays as well as sometimes overlooked issues such as their physical health.
She gets maintenance and home repair requests routed to groups in the church that will help. Transportation can also be coordinated through volunteers willing to help those who are unable to drive.
Carolyn Jones, 58, of Brandon believes such mundane inconveniences take on more significance for a widow.
"The reason to have to ask just highlights your vulnerability," said Jones, who lost her husband, Alan.
"Eventually we find a new normal in our life," DePriest said. Many recover and want to begin new lives.
"I want to move forward and not be stuck on that one, sad day," said Terrell, 46. "I look forward to meeting someone else to share my life with."
For more information on the group, call 689-4229, ext. 314.