Fathering the Fatherless, Part VII: From Heartache to Healing, "Running to Remember"

On Sunday, June 17, 2012, more than 5,000 runners participated in the Inaugural Canton Marathon. For one local group, the day was not just about making memories, it was about keeping memories alive.

It was Father’s Day, and for some members of Heartache to Healing in Canton, it was their first Father’s Day without a spouse to help them celebrate. Running the race was a way to be proactive about what could be a difficult day, with others who would be experiencing similar emotions. 

Carly Engrish-Desphy, co-founder of Heartache to Healing, Canton, and the coach/organizer of the eleven member team, said that when she heard that the event was going to be on Father’s Day, she considered it a “sign from God” that she should form a group to participate.

Though Carly herself is a runner and past triathlete, most of her “Running to Remember” team had little running experience, but she encouraged them to train, and every member has committed to the event next year as well.

For the team’s only widower, it was the one year anniversary of his loss. His wife’s name was printed, along with the names of the late spouses of other team members, on the back of the team shirts.

“I felt it was a perfect way to acknowledge our loved ones and do something fun, and productive,” said Engrish-Desphy, who ran the ½ marathon herself while the others ran on two teams to complete the 26.2 mile race.  

Heartache to Healing Canton is not a typical “grief support group.” It grew out of a need for something “different.”  

After Carly’s husband, Jove Desphy died suddenly in October of 2009, she “knew in [her] gut it was going to be a long journey—something [she] would deal with for a very long time.”

Holding a degree in psychology, she felt she was in touch with her emotions and fairly good at dealing with the “stuff” of her life, but when she went to a support/therapy group, she felt the steps she was being led through were too “cookie cutter” and simply not working for her.

She made a phone call to a woman in Akron who led a social support group for those who have suffered the loss of a spouse, but to her disappointment, the woman said that she was welcome to come, but that she "might not fit in," because most of the members of her group were over 70. Carly was 34 at the time.

The woman said to her, “You need to start your own group.”

At that same time, she had begun meeting weekly with Heather Rodak, a mother of four whose husband, Rick had passed away too.

“Our kids all went to Strausser Elementary. We met volunteering at the book fair. We ended up talking and crying and laughing and crying some more. Then we started going out to lunch together.”

Carly says that when she was with other friends, although they were genuinely loving and concerned, they would sit across from her and want to know what she was going through, but Heather simply knew.

There was no explaining anything.

She asked her friend: “Will you do this with me? Start a group?”

Though Heather was not immediately convinced, she ultimately agreed and they moved forward with the intent to focus upon providing a place for people to come together. The group gathers for fun activities, and in the midst of that its members end up sharing stories about their spouses, find support for raising their children, and experience a community where everyone has been through a similar hardship/loss. 

The woman from the Akron group helps by providing referrals.

Two years later, the group has close to 100 people on its e-mailing list and about 8 to 15 showing up to the monthly functions, but the group’s mission is not about numbers; it’s about friendships. 

The group organizers make a point to include their children in certain activities.  

Carly knew that like her, others needed a place to “not feel so stared-at and wondered-about. Maybe at times I was just paranoid, but it was often true…”

She also wanted her kids to be around others who understood them. To not have to feel like “I’m so different. Nobody else has lost a parent.” Others have felt that way, too.  

In the process of establishing the group, Carly also discovered Camp Comfort Zone, a grief camp that mixes fun activities with group sessions. Her children, ages 9 and 11, have attended for two years. Since the camp is located in New Jersey, Carly has a vision to start a camp locally, which fits in with her vision for the growth of Heartache to Healing, Canton.

Next week, as the “Fathering the Fatherless” series concludes, Patch readers can learn more about Carly’s journey from Heartache to Healing, as she shares her story and vision to keep her late husband’s memory alive.


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