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Meadows Family portrait, family wearing matching outfits

Grief experts make cloudy days sunny

Pamela Meadows recalls an overwhelming feeling come over her — the realization that she needed help.

It was 2016, and her mother had recently passed away at the Spartanburg Regional Hospice Home. Her father would also pass less than three months later. Meadows had become the legal guardian and primary caregiver of her twin sisters with autism – Kenya and Keicha.

At the same time, there were disputes with her other siblings over their parents’ estate and the future of the twins. One sister proposed having them institutionalized, Meadows said.

“I never wanted children, but I would shudder to think of my sisters being sent to live in a facility,” she said.

Everything – the death of her parents, estrangement from siblings, the weight of assuming responsibility for the twins – was taking a toll. Meadows remembered that she had received information from Spartanburg Regional Hospice about its bereavement services.

“I got (social worker) Beth Cutshall on the phone and I said, ‘I don’t know you, but I need your help.’ Those were the only words I could muster,” Meadows said.

Cutshall said it’s common for those who are grieving to seek help a few months after the passing of a loved one. People need to talk about their feelings, Cutshall said.

“I do a lot of listening, and people realize that having a sounding board is helpful to them.”

It was, indeed, helpful for Meadows.

“In a nutshell, Beth gave me peace of mind,” Meadows said. “She helped me to believe that everything was going to be alright.”

Meadows is the oldest of Rose and Bennie Gist’s six children. She was born in Spartanburg, where her parents met, but the family would later settle in New York. Meadows attended school there and worked as a photographer. She successfully battled drug addiction in the early 1990s – an experience she says that made her determined to look out for others in need.

When Rose and Bennie decided to move back south about 15 years ago, Meadows and all but one of her siblings moved too.

Meadows’ parents wanted her and the twins to live with them. They bought a house on Spartanburg’s east side together. Meadows said all the family members in town remained tight-knit, going to movies together, enjoying Sunday dinner each week and helping one another in times of need.

Along the way, she became involved with her future husband, Randy Meadows. Their relationship became serious about the time that Rose and Bennie began encountering serious health challenges. Pamela knew she would likely be taking on responsibility for Kenya and Keicha.

Pamela and Randy were married in 2016. They enjoy life together. They take Kenya and Keicha on outings – bowling, excursions, gospel concerts and church. The four always go out wearing matching outfits, some of which Pamela makes by hand.

“That way, we can keep track of one another,” she said.

Kenya and Keicha are employed through the Charles Lea Center’s WorkAbility program. Asked if they enjoy their jobs, they answer in unison, “Yes!”

Meadows is proud of how well the twins are doing. She gets up before six each morning to get them ready for the day. She has worked on improving their diet, helping them to lose weight and feel better. “Their self-esteem has really risen,” she said.

But the journey isn’t always an easy one. Meadows has days when “it gets cloudy.” She, Kenya, and Keicha miss their parents. Meadows feels that she also has lost three of her siblings, too. She becomes emotional when talking about her family. “This is the hand I’ve been dealt, and I’m playing it to the best of my ability,” she said.

Spartanburg Regional Hospice has been there along the way. Meadows continues to attend bereavement support groups. It has given her the opportunity to share her story and bond with others who are grieving.

The family has participated in annual events such as Healing at Hatcher and Light Up A Life, as well as a special program recently in which participants used their deceased loved ones’ clothing to make teddy bears.

And she calls Cutshall when she needs to talk.

“I can’t imagine life without Beth,” she said.

Cutshall, meanwhile, feels grateful to have been part of the journey.

“They have done so well,” she said. “They were completely devastated when all this happened. They’ve learned to rely on one another and put one foot in front of the other. They have transformed from devastation to living again – and living a good life.”

To donate to Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Hospice Special Needs Fund, visit https://regionalfoundation.com/donate-now/hospice/