New Horizons open house setGrief program for widowed persons celebrates 20 years
By: Tara Bitzan, Alexandria Echo Press
WHAT: New Horizons Open House
WHEN: Sunday, April 29
1 to 3 p.m.
Program at 2 p.m.
WHERE: First Lutheran Church, 822 Douglas Street, Alexandria
When a person experiences grief, it’s often difficult for others to understand what they’re going through unless they’ve been through a similar experience.
Carole Magnuson of Alexandria knows first-hand that even then, it’s never quite the same.
“Everyone experiences grief differently,” she said. “No one knows exactly how you’re feeling even if they’ve been through it.”
Magnuson is the aftercare coordinator at Anderson Funeral Home in Alexandria. It’s a career path that she didn’t intend to take, but has been rewarding none-the-less.
A NEW HORIZON
Magnuson’s world turned upside down when she was widowed at age 46. The mother and preschool teacher did her best to keep living her life while dealing with her grief.
“There was nothing out there as far as support for people like me,” she said. “You just had to keep moving, but sometimes it was really hard.”
Because of her experience, Magnuson was later asked to teach a Community Education class for widowed people.
“I didn’t think I was qualified to do that, but they talked me into it and I did it,” she said, knowing there was a need for such a thing in the community. “It was so uncomfortable; one lady cried through the entire class.”
Magnuson knew her efforts were worth it, however, when the woman spoke to her after class, saying, “I thought I was going crazy, but you said it was normal to feel this way. I thought I was the only one going through this.”
“Then I decided that if I helped just one person know they weren’t going crazy – that others had gone through the same thing and survived – it was worth it,” Magnuson explained.
Magnuson wasn’t the only one who saw the need for a local grief support system.
Tom Anderson of Anderson Funeral Home in Alexandria also knew that such a program was needed. And he knew the right person for the job – Carole Magnuson.
In 1990 she joined the staff as coordinator of the aftercare program, which provides support to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one.
Two years later, New Horizons was born – a support and social group specifically for widowed persons.
Magnuson gathered together widowed people she knew to brainstorm ideas for the program.
“We talked about what was the most difficult thing, and it kept coming up that Sunday was a lonely day, so that’s where we decided to start,” Magnuson said.
An advisory board of widowed persons was established, and the first project was to hold Sunday noon lunches for any and all widowed persons who wanted to attend.
20 YEARS OF SERVICE
The New Horizons program has continued to grow under Magnuson’s leadership and is now celebrating its 20th year.
The Sunday noon meals have remained a popular part of the program, but many other options have been added as well, including a monthly brunch; Friday night socials; holiday events; card groups; women’s and men’s groups; education classes on such topics as living wills, cooking for one and financial planning; and a variety of activities such as theater outings, bus tours, Twins game trips, picnics, dining out and more.
Magnuson noted that individuals can attend any or all of the events that interest them. Some activities may only include five people while some of the special dinners have had 100 in attendance.
New Horizon activities are partially funded by Anderson Funeral Home.
A newsletter was also started in 1997 that lists all of the upcoming social and educational opportunities. The newsletter is currently sent out every other month to more than 400 people.
Another group formed from the New Horizons program early on – the B-GEMS, which includes widowed persons from Brandon, Garfield, Evansville and Millerville. The group formed so that individuals from that area of wouldn’t have to travel so far for outings and events.
Because the after care program at Anderson’s Funeral Home offers grief support groups and classes, such as the six-session “Growing Through Our Grief” program, the New Horizons program focuses more on social needs.
“Sometimes people are uncomfortable with a support group atmosphere,” Magnuson said. “They are afraid they might have to say something or talk about how they are feeling, and some just don’t want to do that. This program gives them a chance to just get out and socialize with others.
“When married, you get used to doing everything as a couple, and when you lose your spouse, it’s hard to find things to do socially,” she added. “These activities give people the opportunity to meet other people.
An open house will be held on Sunday, April 29 to celebrate New Horizons’ 20-year milestone. It will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. at First Lutheran Church in Alexandria, with a program taking place at 2 p.m.
The event will also pay tribute to Magnuson, who will be turning over the coordination of the New Horizon program to Jeri Dawson.
Magnuson will continue in her role as after care coordinator for Anderson Funeral Home, and Dawson will take on her new duties while continuing her full-time job as a realtor.
“I’ll miss it,” Magnuson said. “It’s been like a ministry for me. I felt that if I could make a difference for one person and make one day go better, then it was worth it.
“Life changes, and you don’t always like it, and you don’t always choose it,” she added. “I didn’t choose to be a widow at age 46. It just happens and you can’t change it, so you have to accept it. And then you create hope for the person who meets you. They think, ‘If she survived, then there’s hope for me.’”
For more information on New Horizons or other grief support programs, call Anderson Funeral Home at (320) 763-5900.