Our Neighbors.... Peggy MakiPeggy Maki has touched a chord in the hearts of many, though she will be the first to admit the reverse is actually true.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Peggy Maki has touched a chord in the hearts of many, though she will be the first to admit the reverse is actually true.
After participating in a series of five humanitarian trips to Honduras, for example, she grew reflective about the experiences she shared with the people there and stated, “I came home with a feeling that they had given me more than I could ever give them, just by their love and acceptance.”
When talking about the role she plays as facilitator of grief and suicide support groups at Community Memorial Hospital, she stated, “It’s a passion of mine, because these people are in such pain. To help them work through the grieving process is an honor for me.”
Perhaps it is that belief there is inherent value in nurturing others through all phases of the human experience that makes her so good at what she does.
Maki grew up in Esko, married her high school sweetheart, Roger, and the two adopted their oldest son, Aaron, from Korea in 1975. A year later, they adopted their daughter April, also from Korea.
“At the time, we desperately wanted children and after talking with the Children’s Home Society in St. Paul we learned it was easiest to adopt from Korea at that time. We just wanted children, and it has never mattered to us where they came from.”
Youngest son Alexander was their “surprise package,” said Maki, born 15 years after they were married.
“My friends talked me into having a rummage sale and selling all my baby things,” she chuckled. “Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant!”
Maki considers herself fortunate to be able to stay home much of the time her children were small.
“We’d waited so long for children, I wanted to make sure I could stay home with them when they were babies,” she said.
Maki made her first visit to Honduras in 2002 with a group led by the Rev. Dennis Morreim of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Cloquet.
“Humanitarian work was something I always wanted to do,” she related. “I’ve been moved by the stories and pictures on television and felt if there was something I could do, I certainly wanted to do it.”
That was the first of five visits to the underdeveloped country, and the people there left a lasting impression on Maki.
“They have practically nothing, and what little they have they’re willing to share,” she said. “It was a beautiful experience. It was love at first sight, so I went again the next year and stayed two weeks, and then I went back again six months later.”
Maki still remains in touch with several of the folks she met in Honduras and lends support whenever she can, hoping to go back again some day.
Always interested in nurturing others, Maki first became interested in providing grief support nine years ago when friends Tom and Marcia Braun were killed in a tragic car accident 10 years ago while on a family vacation trip, leaving behind a family of five children.
“Their death had an affect on Roger and I,” she said. “We grieved their loss and we grieved for their children. Our son Alexander was best friends with the Braun’s son, Ben, and I was concerned about him because he was unwilling to talk about those feelings of loss with me. That’s when I decided to take him to see Dr. Ben Wolff at St. Mary’s Grief Support Center because he went into such depression. ”
It was shortly after going to the grief support session in Duluth that Maki decided lending support to people who are experiencing grief was something she thought she, herself, could do. After taking one-on-one grief support training with Gina Dixon at St. Mary’s Grief Support Center, Maki did some collaborative work with Morreim and conducted a grief support group at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.
She never hesitated when Morreim (by then serving as chaplain at Community Memorial Hospital) called her one day and asked if she’d be interested in leading a grief support group at the hospital.
The group got started in September 2007 and has been going strong ever since.
“It is an open group, meeting the second Tuesday of every month, so people can come and go as they please,” she explained. “They may come for only one month, or they may come for three or four. They each have their own story if they’re comfortable with telling it and opening themselves to support from the rest of the group.
“Talking is the best way to work yourself through grief,” she continued. “There is no easy way. Many times I wish I had a magic wand to make all this go away and make them feel better, but I don’t, so the best we can do is just talk.”
Maki said she often suggests individual activities such as journaling their feelings or writing a letter to the person they have lost to get their feelings out.
“Grief can overcome you suddenly,” she said, “and those intense feelings can be overwhelming.”
The grief support meetings last from 7-8:30 p.m., including some education and a good deal of time spent simply talking. Maki said some who come immediately after the loss of their loved one tend to be introverted and find it difficult to talk in front of a group, so she offers one-on-one sessions until they are ready to move on.
“It’s extremely rewarding to see people start taking baby steps toward that healing process,” Maki reflected.
A year ago last December, Maki and Morreim decided there was also a need for a suicide support in the local area.
“Carlton County has the third highest suicide rate per capita in the state,” she said, “so we felt there was a real need out there for loved ones of those who have attempted or completed suicide.”
She and Morreim and a couple of others from CMH went to suicide support group training in Duluth, and the initial response to the local group was very well received. As co-facilitators, Maki and Morreim encourage participants to come for at least two months in order to begin to work through their feelings and the grieving process.
“It is a lengthy process and it takes a long, long time,” Maki said. “I like to tell people that it is as unique as your thumbprint – you grieve in your own way and you heal in your own time. You carry it with you forever. It’s just a matter of learning new coping skills.”
The suicide support group meets year round on the first and third Thursday of every month from 7-8:30 p.m. at CMH, and it is open to anyone free of charge. Maki said grief over suicide is a complicated issue, because there is often a feeling of guilt or shame involved.
“We try to help them realize that it was not their fault,” said Maki. “If people want to attempt or complete suicide, they will attempt or completesuicide. They may drop hints, but we may not recognize them at the time, and it’s only in hindsight that we do. Guilt and shame are extremely common.”
She said some who have attended the group come in 20-25 years after their loved one has completed suicide, trying to come to grips with the feelings that have been with them all that time.
“Sometimes there will be a case where a spouse will not want a husband or wife to talk about the situation, feeling it’s something that should be swept under the rug, so they don’t deal with it for several years,” said Maki. “There are two things I want them to remember – that you need to talk about it and talk about it until you can’t talk about it any more, and you need to sit back and let the feelings come and just accept them, realizing that feelings change daily. The best way to work yourself through grief is to talk about it. There’s no way around grief – only through it.”
Maki encourages anyone who would like to talk with her about participating in grief or suicide support to contact her at 218-879-4976 or e-mail email@example.com.
Maki summed up grief with a statement she often shares with others: “Grief tore our world down by the yard. We rebuild it one silly millemeter at a time. It is long, it is slow, we may always walk with a limp – but we will walk again.”