COMMUNITY GEM: Fairborn woman helping others cope with grief of losing their husbands

Sherry Matsel unexpectedly became a young widow when her husband, Ronnie, passed away on Easter Sunday in April of 1991.

“He was 44 years old. It was on an Easter Sunday after church, and my son and he had gone up to a local car dealer just to look at cars,” said Matsel, who is from Fairborn. “He had a seizure for some unknown reason, (he had) no history of seizures, but when he went back, he hit his head on the concrete, so he fractured his skull from one side to the next.”

The tragedy took on Matsel on a journey of connecting with other women in the Dayton region who were dealing with the grief of losing their spouse and later helping lead a group to support those women, which led her to being nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

“Sherry is a compassionate and caring person who has been involved with the group for at least a dozen years,” said Margie Perenic, who nominated Matsel as a Community Gem.

When Matsel first lost her husband, she found a community with other women whose husbands also passed away and had formed a support group, in which Matsel soon became involved.

“I can’t remember how I heard about the group at the time. It was a Young Widows Support Group back in the day all these years ago, and it was founded by two very young, widowed women,” Matsel said.

The group had formed a few months prior in September of 1990.

“I remember when I called one of the leaders—one of the founders of the group—and I was about four months out from my loss, and she says, ‘I hate to tell you this, but it’s going to get worse,’” Matsel said. “Well, I just couldn’t believe it, but sure enough, it does, and to this day, we’re even hesitant to tell the ladies that it’s going to get worse because that first year you think nothing can get worse, but it does.”

Matsel found comfort in this group, and she later found a way to pay it forward to help other women dealing with that grief. About 12 years ago, Matsel was asked to help co-lead a different Widows Support Group to take over for a leader who was in her 80s. Matsel decided to take that on so she could support others the way the Young Widows Support Group helped her in the ‘90s.

“It’s very special to me, this group. It’s helped me to pay it forward, and I was pleased when I got the opportunity to help co-lead this different group,” Matsel said.

The topics they cover varies, but grief has different seasons, she said. In the past, they covered different themes to correspond with the time of year.

“For instance like in January, we would have something called new beginnings, and the ladies would have to write down something that they felt was holding up their grief work—some kind of a roadblock or something that was causing them not being able to grieve fully—and then they also were to write down a goal they had for the next year,” Matsel said.

Their current group sometimes sits and just talks while other members provide reassurance to new ones seeking help as they work through the different stages of grief. They meet on the first Friday of every month at MCL Cafeteria on Far Hills.

“We assure them that they are not losing their minds, and they really appreciate that support. I think that’s the biggest thing that I could say about this group is that you realize you’re not alone,” Matsel said. “It is kind of a shock the first time they find themselves able to laugh, and it’s just, I think, very encouraging.”

Matsel and her husband had two children together, a son and daughter, and their son followed in her husband’s footsteps to join in the U.S. Air Force. Their family has six grandchildren now, who each get to hear stories about their grandfather.

In addition to this Widows Support Group, Matsel has also helped out with a caregiver support group with the Greene County Council on Aging, for which she is now volunteering as a board member.

Matsel retired in December 2011, having held previous jobs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

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