A story of the healing power of support
“I got to Our Lady of Peace early on the first day of the grief support group, but I stayed in my truck and couldn’t go in. I watched people go in, but I couldn’t do it.” Then, Ron Rudolph realized, “I’ve driven a long way to get to get here, so I better go in.” With slouching posture and arms crossed, Ron sat in the meeting thinking, “How can you possibly help me?” The two people Ron looked at when these words came into his mind were grief support group facilitators, Ruth Markowitz and Debbie Swanson, the two people he now credits for saving his life.
Ron says he’s “not a talker.” Instead, he listens and thinks before he speaks. And, according to Ron, there are no words to describe how he felt when his wife, Pat, passed away at the
Our Lady of Peace Residential Hospice. For two months, he struggled with indescribable grief, waking up in the middle of the night and going into his woodworking shop in the garage to build houses for his wife’s beloved bluebirds. Working with his hands helped protect Ron’s heart from the pain of loss. “After Pat died, I got caught up in making funeral arrangements. I didn’t have time to grieve, and at the time, I was surrounded by my kids, grandkids, and relatives. Then one day, they went back to their lives, and there I was.” Ron had tried grief counseling when Pat was in hospice, but he says, “The support group was all women, I felt out of place, and as a man, I thought I didn’t need it because I’m the fixer. Well, I’m here to say that not going to counseling is the biggest mistake anyone can make.”
The Turning Point
Ron admits that he was skeptical at first about how talking about Pat with strangers would do him any good. After all, they didn’t know his wife, or anything about their relationship. But the day he introduced Pat to the group, everything changed. “Debbie gave us all an assignment to bring a photograph of our spouse to the next meeting, and I thought, ‘What the heck?!’ I later called her to tell her I can’t do this anymore, and she said, ‘It’s a week away. Just think about it for a while.’ Finally, I realized that if I didn’t go, I would be alone at home.”
When Ron built Pat’s cremation urn, his kids gave him an enlarged photo of her to set beside it at her funeral. He packed it up and headed to Our Lady of Peace, placed it behind his chair and sat down. “People pulled out smaller, framed photos of their spouse and introduced them to the group. When it was my turn, I pulled out the huge picture of my wife, and begin to speak.
Suddenly, Pat became a person to the group. They saw a face with her name. It was very emotional.” As group meetings progressed, Ron realized that he was further along in his grief process that he thought he was. “People said they hadn’t had the strength to take their spouse’s clothes out of the closet, and I had already done that, with the help of my daughter, so I was able to encourage them by telling them I got through it.”
Building Brings Healing
The bluebird houses Ron Rudolph built to get through his grief are now helping other individuals and families in the same way. Ron has made thousands of houses with the help of his children and grandchildren. “Pat kept pushing me to build a bigger shop for my woodworking, but it was never the right time. Finally, I did it and little did I know that her pushing would one day save me and help a lot of other people.”
Rudolph’s Birdhouses continue to bring grieving people together and to raise money for Our Lady of Peace, so we can continue to help people heal. “Giving back to Our Lady of Peace sets a good example for the kids, and it continues to bring us together.”
The Happy Ending
Almost three years after his wife’s passing, Ron Rudolph found love again. On Christmas Eve in 2019, in the Chapel at Our Lady of Peace, Ron proposed to someone he met in the spouse support group. “It had to happen in the place where both of our lives stopped and started again. Kathleen and I were married in October. If I had stayed in my truck and not walked into that support group, I would probably still be home by myself.”