Topeka grief therapy turns woman’s life around


TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Shawn Nowak experienced grief at a young age. She lost her grandfather when she was 22 years old, triggering her battle with mental illness.

“The loss really threw me over the edge. I had never experienced a loss of someone so close and near and dear to me as I did him. I knew I need help. So I called a psychiatrist. Starting seeing a psychiatrist. But then I had to face my own death when I tried to commit suicide twice. I was in a coma for a month and was on total life support,” said Nowak.

But Shawn is a fighter, determined to live life to the fullest. Shawn is a patient at Valeo Behavioral Health Care. She joined a grief group to help her understand her feelings and cope with her feelings.

Shelley Endsley-Killinger, a Clinical Social Worker at Valeo said many times they get messages that you should be done, it’s time to stop now, you should be over this.

“This group has served as a place that says as long as you want to talk about your grief this is a place to do that. It’s a place where you feel safe showing your grief. We can cry or choose not to cry.  It’s a place where you can feel safe to talk about your grief and loss,” said Nowak.

Shawn’s group meets once a month. Right now the group is reading the book Understand Your Grief by Alan Wolfelt, to facilitate conversation and help members work through their feelings.

“One is I have the right to experience my own grief in my own unique way. Each person is individual in how they express their grief. Besides having a right to talk about your grief you also have a right to not talk about it. You have a right to have a multitude of emotions. From confusion to fear, guilt, relief, and feeling angry,” said Endsley-Killinger.

“We have to look at all aspects of a situation. Not just about spiritually or having a funeral. It’s much deeper than that and the group helps give me support from other people who have experience losses in their life as well,” said Nowak.

Shawn still mourns the loss of her grandfather. But now she has a new avenue to express her grief and get help with her mental illness.

Amerigroup offers a variety of group grief therapy programs at Valeo each year.

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