Strong faith, a Christian-based grief program and shepherding others through a devastating loss are helping deliver Fred and Margaret Morgan from their own grief.

The Morgans lost their 41-year-old son, Mark, in April 2003. The seemingly healthy N.C. Forest Service employee had an undiagnosed heart condition and died during a routine endurance exercise."This grief is so deep and so hard that I don't want to waste it," Margaret Morgan told Community Bible Church adult ministries pastor Rob Black. "This experience can't be for naught. How can I ever use this in a positive way?"

Black suggested the north High Point church begin a Christian-based program called GriefShare , which uses fellowship and faith to combat devastating loss. According to the GriefShare Web site, Community Bible is the first High Point church to offer the program.

It was brought to Black's attention by another church member, Scott Hinson, who attended GriefShare at a Winston-Salem church after the death of his girlfriend in the fall of 2003.

Black asked the Morgans and Hinson to co-facilitate the program, which began in October at Community Bible.

Hinson and his "engaged to be engaged" girlfriend Kirstin Ekeland were in Ekeland's Charlotte apartment on Oct. 30, 2003. After having severe chest pains, Ekeland went to Presbyterian Hospital in Matthews and was released to Hinson's care. Tests to determine the cause of her pain were inconclusive.

"We had small talk all night. For the most part, I was just concerned about her and discussed how she was feeling," Hinson said. "There were times when we talked about how we felt about each other, and I consider that a gift from God."

Ekeland - gasping for breath, convulsing, turning blue - woke Hinson from a sound sleep at 9:30 a.m. on Halloween morning.

Then came a panicked call to 911. Hinson started CPR. Paramedics arrived. Ekeland was put in the ambulance, Hinson following, to be met at the emergency entrance by the hospital chaplain. Ekeland was dead on arrival.

Hinson, in shock, started crying after seeing his girlfriend lying dead in the hospital.

Looking at the body of a loved one brought the reality of unexpected death to the Morgans as well.

The couple was getting ready to go to their son's favorite place - their mountain cabin - when a doctor called from Chapel Hill's N.C. Memorial Hospital . He said little other than, "Come quickly."

Mark Morgan was dead on a gurney, a sheet pulled up to his chest, arms at his sides, when his parents arrived.

"He was absolutely - a mother's word - beautiful," Margaret Morgan said. "He looked like he was asleep. His hair was beautiful. His skin was beautiful. But his lips and ears were purple-blue. It was surreal."

Morgan touched her son's hair, but wondered later why she didn't hug him. Then, she said, God gave her words to speak.

"I said out loud, and it was a like a gift of faith at that moment, 'Lord, I know this was his appointed day to die to go and be with you. And we just release him to you today.' Saying that helped me. It was like recognizing the sovereignty of God in our lives."

That degree of faith offered peace to the Morgans and to Hinson in the aftermath of their loved ones' death, but it didn't erase grief, pain and anger.

"We see people who are grossly overweight, smoking cigarettes and drinking booze and think: Why is Mark dead, and they're alive," Margaret Morgan said. "That's a natural, earthly reaction."

Hinson felt a temporary calm in the wake of Ekeland's death that he attributes to God. But several months later, Hinson didn't know how to resolve his love of God with the loss of his girlfriend.

"There was a period of six or seven weeks I didn't go to Sunday worship," Hinson said, "because I had a hard time hearing people say joyously that God is good. I know deep down it's true, but I just didn't want to hear it at that time."

Hinson believes he began the healing process after attending a GriefShare program at a Winston-Salem church. He and the Morgans co-facilitate the program at Community Bible.

"In helping others, we're helped," Margaret Morgan said.

Since the program began in October, Community Bible's GriefShare group has attracted about a half-dozen participants. GriefShare lets folks who have undergone devastating loss share their stories with each other, so they don't feel alone in their grief. Group leaders share their stories first and help those just getting out of the shock of loss to realize that anger and sorrow are natural, human ways to express grief.

"I believe you can keep your faith and still be angry at God because God is big enough to handle our anger," Hinson said. "Not only that, but when we're angry at God, we're paying attention to God. We're focused on God."

GriefShare emphasizes the importance of putting a relationship with Christ at the center of one's life, instead of a relationship with one's children, partner, career or finances. Those attachments can disappear, the program argues, while a relationship with Christ is permanent.

But no matter how strong that relationship becomes, Margaret Morgan said, it doesn't turn you into "perfect little Christian-ettes" who never feel their human emotions.

She feels she has come to terms with her son's death, but she still has days when his memory can start to evoke pain or sorrow. Whenever that happens, Morgan's mind goes back to the outdoors Mark Morgan loved.

"I just imagine, when I feel sad, what he's doing, and the mountains he's climbing now and the lakes he's fishing in now and the joy he feels."

\ Contact Justin Cord Hayes at 883-4422, Ext. 238, or jhayes@news-record.com

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