By Wendy Nugent], Harvey County Now
NEWTON—Newton resident Tony Baker and his wife Ronda Baker came down with COVID-19 in April 2021. Tony survived, Ronda did not.
Now, Tony is learning to live life differently with his wife gone and, as part of that, is participating in the Re-Member Grief and Loss 8-Week Debrief Series, which starts March 7.
“The debrief is a relational and intentional process that will provide each participant the space and opportunity to process their story,” said Anna Lee Ward, one of the facilitators. “They will be processing—verbally and through a personal project—their past and recent events from their point of view, complete with their emotional responses at the time of loss and since then.”
By getting off the high-speed merry-go-round life can feel like after a loss, the eight-week event is designed to have participants emotionally unpack and reflect on what they experienced at the time of loss.
“The debrief is designed to help you process and move forward from the place where you feel stuck because of loss,” Ward said.
The Bakers’ experience
The Bakers were admitted to the hospital a couple of years ago with COVID-19 with pneumonia.
“We knew we had it,” Baker said. “We just thought we’d weather through it.”
Baker was diagnosed a week after his wife was.
“That is about the time she went on the ventilator,” Baker said. “She was basically freefalling with the oxygen levels.”
Ronda then was put into the Intensive Care Unit and then on a BiPap [bilevel positive airway pressure) ventilator.
“She kept getting progressively worse,” Baker said, adding the oxygen machines she was put on kept getting bigger and that Ronda really was struggling. “That lasted about three weeks.”
Ronda made kind of a turnaround at one point. It didn’t last long.
At this time, one of their daughters, Gillian, and her twins who all live in England spent three or four weeks in Newton and Gillian’s husband, Tyler, was coming from England to Newton to pick up his family.
“He only brought three days of clothes,” Baker said. “I got a call from ICU and I was expecting them to say they were taking her to a rehab facility.”
Instead, they told him Ronda had an infection, so Baker and Gillian spent all night with Ronda. Once a person is put on a ventilator, Baker said, that person is not conscious.
“So there was no talking after that one night,” Baker said, adding the hospital gets upset if a patient’s oxygen levels go below 90 percent, and Ronda’s were in the 70s. To complicate things, Ronda had a pacemaker put in a year prior.
Gillian and Baker were looking at Ronda’s monitor and noticed her heart rate go down to 60 and stay there for four or five minutes, and then after that, the pacemaker kicked in.
“That’s when her heart went kind of crazy,” Baker said. “That’s when we knew the damage was done because the brain stopped because of lack of oxygen.”
It was God’s timing that Tyler came to town that night, and he ended up staying two weeks, Baker said.
“We met as a family the next day and decided to take Ronda off the ventilator and pacemaker,” Baker said. “She lasted about five minutes.”
The family was all in agreement, he said.
“I think God was taking care,” Baker said. “If someone had a nay vote that would’ve caused a problem.”
After that, Baker read a book by Jerry Bridges with The Navigators group called “Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts!” The book just solidified a lot of things for him.
“God is in control and God goes through our pain with us and we just need to draw near because if I wouldn’t have had a relationship with Jesus, I don’t know where I would’ve been,” he said. “I’d recently retired just about a year before.”
Baker had several grief books and he said when things like this happen, a person needs to reinvent oneself.
“I did to a certain extent,” he said. “The biggest thing is I’m continuing to go to church. Some people get mad or angry at God. I never did do that.”
Baker said he’s not sure what he’s going to get out of the debriefing and that he doesn’t ever want to stop learning.
“I don’t think I have any ghosts in my closet,” he said. “If I do, maybe they’ll be able to bring that out and I’ll deal with it. We lie to ourselves the easiest.”
Baker and Ronda had four children and nine grandchildren together. There was one point when Ronda was in the hospital the medical staff told Baker to gather his children.
“The family stayed together—didn’t splinter,” Baker said. “Even though that was a bad time in my life, it could’ve been so much worse.”
Ronda did the finances when she was alive, so son Zach asked Ronda about the finances.
“I would just give her the check,” Baker said.
About the debrief
The debrief idea started after Ronda Schmidt, Ward and her husband Dallas, all of Newton, attended a training to facilitate small group debriefs for faith-based cross-cultural and global workers.
“After finding how effective the participation in a small group debrief is to process and resolve grief and loss and to deal with the stress and transitions associated with that loss, we desired to make this opportunity available to our local community, through Re-Member, a Grief and Loss Gathering,” Schmidt said.
Both Schmidt and Ward have had losses dealing with their parents.
“For me, the loss of my father to Parkinson’s Dementia in December 2021 was fresh in my mind while I was attending training to conduct faith-based global worker debriefs in spring of 2022,” Ward said. “I was surprised to find that in the process of working through the debrief training for a very different context, I experienced great help in processing my own grief, loss, transitions and stress related to my father’s extended illness and death.”
Schmidt’s parents passed away, one in 2018 and the other in 2020, one during the pandemic lockdown.
“However, most recently (2021), I had to leave my passion in ministry and life work of 30-plus years and have been in a major life transition, moving toward using the skills I have gained through my years of experience as a teacher, trainer and mentor/coach,” Schmidt said. “In 2022, I participated in a faith-based debrief and found the material and interacting with people with similar experiences impactful in working through my transition that brought about loss and consequently grief. Since then, I’ve been able to use the tools I received at that time to work through losses that I’ve experienced.”
The debrief is for people who have lost a loved one, but it’s also for others experiencing different kinds of losses beyond death that can generate grief and stress. That can include divorce, estrangement, difficult medical diagnosis, disappearing or missing person, death of a spouse, child or close friend, marital separation, imprisonment, retirement/loss of a job/financial loss, infertility, suicide, sexual assault, domestic violence, runaway child or loss of a pet.
“There are many types of traumatic loss events in our lives that can lead to one’s deep grief, for whom Re-Member could be a help,” Schmidt said.
The debrief is a group of up to six people who will be guided by two to three debrief-trained facilitators for eight weeks. They’ll work on an in-depth understanding of how to navigate loss and grief.
“The debrief will give you space to learn and reflect on your life in an organized way,” Ward said. “The manual and materials for Re-Member are effectual, time-tested and faith-based and are designed with the participant’s spiritual, social, physical and emotional well-being in focus.”
Each unit through the eight weeks is geared toward learning how to reduce stress, working through grief and finding the clarity to recover your life balance and momentum after loss, while building resilience and learning about personal soul care.
So far, the participants who have signed up are males.
“Human nature tends to remember either the good or the hard, but healthy people create space to accurately see and honor all parts of their life,” Schmidt said. “Why is this important? It allows you to move forward with less baggage and unintended consequences because you respected all parts of your experience.”
Register by going to the Facebook page, and messaging a facilitator, or email Schmidt at email@example.com.