Listening Hearts lends open ear

Elizabeth Brakebill, left, and Cerrie Satterfield, right, listen to Jackie Smith during Listening Hearts at Ugly Mug Cafe in Lenoir City.

The first Monday evening of each month, a group of mothers gather to connect over the harsh reality that their lives will never be the same.

The Listening Hearts group is a way for bereaved mothers to connect over their grief, receive advice from other grieving mothers and make steps toward finding happiness after tragedy.

The group has several chapters across Tennessee, and the Loudon chapter began in September. Since establishing the chapter, the group has taken up various activities and talking points to help each other walk through their grief.

“It’s a fellowship of grief, as awful as it sounds,” Elizabeth Brakebill, group leader, said. “It’s extremely necessary.”

Though the mothers have faced various circumstances in how and at how old their children died, the common thread is the grief they have faced and continue to battle. Time is not always a healing tool.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been two weeks or 10 years or 20 years,” Jannell Costa, group member, said. “Unless you’ve gone through it, people don’t understand it. And to have people who understand it, who have gone through it, just to listen.”

“People think we’re crazy out there,” Brakebill added. “We’re supposed to be over it in, what, a year? This is something you never get over, especially as a mother. You never get over it.”

At monthly meetings, the group can talk about specific topics or let the conversation navigate. They occasionally participate in crafts. In February, Brakebill discovered it was National Haiku Month, so she organized an event for mothers to write haikus about their children and create Japanese ink art.

For some members, like Carol Jamerson, chatting with other mothers has proven to relieve anxieties.

“Talking is the biggest help, to be perfectly honest,” she said. “What we have to do when you lose is a child is you have to desensitize yourself so you can breathe and live, and the only way you do that is to talk to somebody who’s walked in your shoes. We help each other get through certain things.”

The group identifies itself as a “space place” for mothers to gather and reveal how they are feeling emotionally, especially if what they are feeling steps outside the bounds of what the world considers “normal” after tragedy strikes.

“We’ve had people say things in this group and then say, ‘That’s the first time I’ve been able to actually say that out loud,’” Brakebill said.

Though many in marriages may have husbands to lean on, Brakebill believes the grief may not be the same.

“As mothers, some of us have husbands, some of us not, and some marriages, I think it was 70% of marriages, don’t survive this,” she said. “Even in this group, we’ve seen some that have not. But even if they do and even if they’re great, still, that daddy doesn’t understand what the other mamas do.”

Brakebill mentioned Listening Hearts members’ stories, though each are unique, are becoming more common as the toll of young people passing away in the local community rises.

“In this community, there are so many,” she said. “I know right after my daughter died, within three years, I think I lost count after 21 young people between the ages of 15 and 21 that we knew died.”

The Listening Hearts group has failed to see a large influx of new members, even though many Loudon County mothers are grieving. A hesitancy to share and confront reality can block mothers from joining, even if they want to.

“I have a list of about 50 moms that I send letters to every month that I just personally know of, and I’ve had some that I’ve met on the streets that say, ‘I just can’t do it,’” Brakebill said. “You have to be very vulnerable to come in.”

Tackling hard conversations head-on can be initially uncomfortable, but most members are relieved they found the group.

“It took me 10, 12 years before I could even have the conversation,” Costa said.

Other members, like Cerrie Satterfield, revealed she sat in her car for nearly half the meeting before she worked up the nerve to meet the other mothers.

Though the initial push to be vulnerable is required to become part of the group, Brakebill believes the payoff is worth the initial discomfort.

“I would say just come do it,” she said. “Just one time. You don’t even have to say anything. You can come sit and just listen, but you’re amongst people that care. We don’t care how many times you want to tell the same story about your child. We’re going to sit here like it’s the first time we heard it.”

Listening Hearts will meet again at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 at McGill Click Funerals & Cremation due to a Labor Day conflict. The group will also hold a butterfly release Oct. 5 in memory of their children.

For more info, call 865-679-1351.