By DONNA CRONK
Reprinted from the Saturday, May 2, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times. Last in a series looking at how local people with special challenges cope and hope during the coronavirus pandemic and their advice for you.
When you walk into Hinsey-Brown Funeral Service, it might be hard to say which you notice first about Wanda Jones--her pleasant smile or her big heart.
While part of her job working in advance planning and aftercare is to support those who grieve, it's her empathy that extends beyond a paycheck. She's no stranger to personal grief.
The tenth baby born in 1964 to the late Felix and Lovie Dishman, Wanda's mother died unexpectedly at 54 when Wanda was entering her teens. Her father died in 2007 after a brief illness, and months later, her best friend lost her life in a car accident.
Recently, grief visited Wanda again with the sudden March 9 passing of her beloved husband of 35 years, Steve, from a heart attack.
World is upside down
"Now I find myself trying to navigate this same path that I have walked with others," says Wanda. "My world has been turned upside down. I am in the depths of my grief and reality is beginning to settle in. The timing with social distancing has not been my friend."
Steve's viewing and funeral were days before the COVID-19 restrictions began.
"I am so thankful we didn't have limitations at that time," Wanda says. "Our family is huge and we had family come from five-or-more states to support us. My heart goes out to those now who are having to do things so differently. It just complicates things so much more."
Wanda says social distancing is difficult in itself but combined with losing a loved one, "it can be completely devastating. The support of family and friends is so vital when you are grieving."
Together, the couple have four children, April Forrest, Erica Jones, Ashley Denton and Shane Jones; 10 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Wanda has four sisters, Linda Loveless, Brenda Polston, Gale Poor and Joy Dishman-Harris; four brothers, Dave, Steve, Bob and Larry Dishman, and a stillborn brother, James.
Born in Springport, Wanda and family later moved to Winchester, then back to Henry County. She graduated high school at 16 via homeschooling.
Love of her life
"I met Steve when I was 19," Wanda recalls, adding that they married two years later on Feb. 15, 1985.
"He was 14 years older than me, and honestly, some of my family and friends were concerned that it wouldn't last but this past February we celebrated 35 years of marriage."
They loved to travel and vacation time was a priority. "I don't think we ever missed a year without one or more vacations," Wanda says. "Our family enjoyed many camping and fishing trips every summer."
Wanda came to respect and appreciate Hinsey-Brown while working with with staff there when she sold advertising for this newspaper.
Their services then brought her care and comfort when her dad and best friend both died within six months.
New fulfilling career
Ten years ago Wanda hoped to move into a part-time career that would be both enriching and fulfilling. She learned of an aftercare position at Hinsey-Brown.
Wanda said she had no experience "except for my own grief. They decided to give me a chance ..."
She became certified in bereavement care, and has additional training from grief educator-counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt.
"It soon became my passion to walk beside those who are grieving," says Wanda. "Not try to fix them or take away their pain, but just walk with them, be a companion to them, and stand witness to their grief. I have learned so much in the last 10 years from those who have traveled this journey."
Ways to help those who grieve
As for advice for those who grieving while social distancing, Wanda is willing to share what is getting her through.
"I can only think about today, how can I get through today," Wanda says. "I cannot at all look to the future. I am learning the meaning of one day at a time, sometimes it's more like an hour at a time or even a minute."
She continues. "Every morning when I get up, I know that God provided me the strength I needed to get through yesterday; he will do the same today."
Wanda finds working and a routine helpful. "Evenings and weekends are hard because that was our time together. But getting back to work has helped. I have been outside when I can, exercise helps, I planted some flowers this (last) weekend. But there are other times I just have to sit with the grief and let it in."
When it comes to helping those who are isolated, Wanda suggests phone calls. "You don't have to have any great words of wisdom. Just be a good listener and when this social distancing is over we all know your time is the greatest gift you can give someone."
Wanda finds comfort in all those who have reached out to say they are praying for her and in photos, stories, notes and cards that arrive when she needs them.
"I have been overwhelmed and amazed at the support I have received from family and friends and even older friends I hadn't seen in years, who will text or call and a few have stopped by just to talk a minute from their cars."
"I think sometimes people don't know if they should call or mention your loved one in a conversation," Wanda says. "I know from what I have learned from others and now what I know from my own experience is yes, we want to talk about our loss. We want to hear what you remember about our loved one and we want to tell our story. Yes I may cry, but that's OK."
Wanda continues. "I need to cry. I try not to apologize if I break down. I love my husband deeply and I want to grieve him well. This deep pain of grief is a sign that I have given and received love."
Seeking joy to come
Wanda says she will intentionally seek to find joy in the life she has left. "Sometimes it seems so dark, but then we are given a ray of sunshine through the laughter of a child, or the singing of the birds, or a sweet memory that comes out of nowhere."
She continues. "I want to savor these moments and thank God for his blessings."