Grief center helps Baptist team members deal with tremendous losses

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Since opening in 2010, the Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief has provided free comprehensive bereavement services to individuals and families, including annual camps for children, teens, and adults.

Individual donations and grants funded by the Baptist Memorial Health Care Foundation help keep the center open. In addition, every year, local businesses come together to host the Camp Good Grief 5K, which benefits Camp Good Grief, the Mid-South’s first bereavement camp for children. This year’s race will be held on Sunday, Oct. 5 at Memorial Park Cemetery. If you’re looking to run a 5K and/or support the Center for Good Grief, please consider signing up for the race at

During the next two months, we’ll bring you the stories of Baptist team members who credit the center with helping them overcome the loss of loved ones. In this issue, Willette Campbell, senior paralegal in corporate claims for Baptist, talks about how the center helped her and her granddaughter cope with the loss of three loved ones in a little more than three years.

“The grief center is like medicine—it just makes you feel good,” said Willette. More than three years ago, a close Baptist colleague of Willette’s, Lynn Layton, was diagnosed with leukemia. Through the course of her treatment, it became apparent she might not make it through.

Willette made the hard decision to help admit her into the Baptist Reynolds Hospice House, where she received the medical care she needed in her final days. After seeing her close friend pass, the grief center, a few steps away from hospice, would be the sunshine at the end of the stormy year to come.

“The grief center is so much of what our society needs,” said Willette. “We are so private sometimes and want to deal with loss all on our own, but we don’t have to. The center is there for you.”

The help she found there steered her in a more positive direction in the grieving process. The counselors encouraged her to stay healthy and to maintain a consistent openness about the loss of someone close, an experience that would become more familiar to her.

As she was reaching a good place in her grief in the months following her dear colleague’s passing, Willette received some startling news. Her son, Will, had been in a car accident that left him with severe injuries.

Willette and Will
Willette and Will

She was back to step one and had to deal with the possibility that someone else close to her heart might not make it. Campbell was hit with a flood of emotions as she watched her son in the hospital bed. She knew the severity of his injuries and what that meant for their family. A short two weeks later, she had to bury her only son.

Willette became comfortable with the counselors and especially the director, Angela Hamblen. It taught Willette that mourning is not only OK but necessary, lessons her granddaughter, little Olivia, would have to learn.

Three months after her son’s passing, Olivia’s mother, Merideth, suddenly passed away.

4 x 6 in. cutout prints
Willette and Merideth

“Olivia (who was 7 at the time) felt it was her fault that she couldn’t do more to help her mom. Visiting with the counselors helped her understand that she couldn’t blame herself,” said Willette.

The coroner could not find a definitive cause of her daughter’s death, a blow that would only make the road to peace a little longer for Willette and Olivia.

Willette said, “Growing up, I never saw my mom cry at funerals. That generation just never mourned. They kept it all in. Not me. I mourned because the center helped me understand that it was OK to feel all the emotions associated with loss—guilt, denial, anger, shock, sadness, depression— there’s a million of them.”

It was in this dark time in her life that she leaned on the grief center for support and direction. The grief was overwhelming. They continued attending sessions at the center and both attended Camp Good Grief in the summer.

Her time at the center in sessions and all the events they have to celebrate the lives of loved ones is constant encouragement. Events like Art of Caring and the Camp Good Grief 5K are designed to bring people together to celebrate. The money they raise helps to continue the center’s service to parents and children in grief.

“As the saying goes, ‘The Lord doesn’t put anything on us that we can’t handle,’” said Willette. “Olivia and I wouldn’t be in this place of peace without them.”

Both continue to visit the center, and Olivia hopes to be a counselor at Camp Good Grief one day.

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