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After death of son, a journey of grieving through a mother’s eyes

It’s been 11 years since the tragic death of her son, Joseph Ramsey, in a single-vehicle wreck, and now South Boston resident Shelley Ramsey is exposing the painful process of grieving in her new book entitled “Grief: A Mama’s Unwanted Journey.” 

In the 136-page book, she shares her own personal journey of grief. 

Ramsey, who also is mother to two other sons, Wyatt and Curt Ramsey, and wife of Phil Ramsey, will be at the Halifax County/ South Boston Visitor Center Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and at The Packhouse Saturday, Nov. 2, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. for book signings.

“I consider the book an act of obedience. It was 11 years after Joseph died, and I woke up one morning, and I told my husband I could not have gone through years of grief and pain and not use it to help others grieving,” Ramsey said. “The only way I knew how to do that was to write a very raw and real book about grieving.” 

The book originated from Ramsey’s journal entries, which she wrote as way to cope after Joseph’s death. 

“A friend of Phil’s had a son die a year before our son did, and he called us when our son died and recommended that we keep journals. Now I recommend that to other parents,” Ramsey said.

The book begins with the story of Joseph’s tragic death and follows up with how she grieved that loss, a process that took over nine years to reach a point of healing. 

“Grief is real and raw, and after Joseph’s death, I read several books about the subject, but one only stuck out to me. It dealt with the rawness of grief, but I wanted to take it a step further and paint an honest vivid day-to-day picture of grief and what it takes to work through it. It was also imperative to me that I offer others grieving the same hope that saw me through my own,” Ramsey said.

She said the book was difficult to write because she had to step back into that grief she had experienced, but she is glad to know that the book may help somebody else. 

She said the book has helped her to see how far God has brought her and her husband through the journey of grief. 

On Saturday, Feb. 23, 2002,17-year-old Joseph was following a friend home on a narrow winding country road when he veered of the right side, overcorrected and ended on the left side of the road. The car then struck a ditch before flipping on its side and striking a tree, which fell on Joseph, killing him instantly.

The mother of three said Joseph’s friend’s family notified her pastor of the accident. The pastor just happened to be with her husband at the time.

The pastor’s wife then told Ramsey what had happened.

“The pastor’s wife called me and said he had been in an accident, and I didn’t know anything else, and I didn’t ask her. You kind of go into mother mode, and you do what mothers do. I just hung up and went to the hospital … to find and take care of my son,” Ramsey said.

She immediately rushed to the hospital where she found out her son had passed away.

“I actually got angry at the doctor because he walked into the room, and he said, ‘Mrs. Ramsey, your son, Joe, was in an accident,’ and I corrected him. I said ‘No, Joseph, his name is Joseph,’ and he just said, ‘Mrs. Ramsey, Joe died.’ And I got angry that he didn’t say his name right,” Ramsey said.

In the first few days of Joseph’s death, Ramsey said she tried to stay focused on taking care of the family and arrangements and didn’t fall apart with anybody but her husband.

“I thought by doing that I was being strong. Of course, I learned over the years that was the worse thing I could’ve done,” she said.

On the morning of Feb. 26, 2002, a private graveside funeral service was held for Joseph, and a public memorial was held that night at their church.

“I was very numb at the funeral itself, but quite honestly, I could remember looking in that hole they were going to lower the coffin into, and I just wanted to dive in,” Ramsey said of her state during the funeral. “I knew where he was, and I knew who he was with and that brought a little bit of comfort, but I still wanted him here with me. I wanted to trade places with him.”

For the next few years after Joseph’s death, she experienced the different stages of grief. 

“You take Psychology 101, and you learn the stages of grief, but when you’re in the middle of them, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. In hindsight, I look back and see. I know that I bargained, I definitely dealt with a lot of depression. The stages of grief are true, and you really go through them. I think what surprised me the most was that I thought you went through each stage, and then it was all over. I was not aware that you could go through the stages of grief multiple times a day, and when you do, it wreaks havoc on you physically and emotionally.”

Ramsey said the grief aged her and her husband 10 to 15 years in one instant.

One of the biggest changes she experienced was going from being the one who was organized and had everything together to being forgetful.

“I lost my memory. I couldn’t remember anything, and I think that was one of the most disheartening things for me.”

She said her worst time of the grieving period was the summer after her son’s death.

“Out of the three sons, Joseph was the only one that was like me. When Joseph died, we all lost somebody different. I lost my comrade. My husband and my other two sons are artists. Jason and I were not artists. We’re both very introverted and were both very content with periods of silence,” she said.

One of her fondest memories was when he would come from school, and she’d be doing the laundry. She said he would tell her about his day and then take his laundry and say “thanks mom for doing the laundry.”

She said her family and friends played a huge role in her grieving process, and she and her family experienced an outpouring of love and support from the community.

“Things that people did to help us were things that I would have never ever even thought about or imagined. We were just loved very, very well,” Ramsey said.

Through it all, she said she has finally reached a point of joy.

“There’s a God that is seriously in love with us, and he will meet each of us in our sea of grief. He offers hope, healing and eventually joy. I’ve known happiness, but I had never known joy. I know joy now, and that only comes from knowing and loving Jesus Christ.” 

For more information, visit the Ramsey’s website at Books are for sale at the Halifax County South Boston Visitor Center, The Packhouse, Southern Plenty, Turn’n Headz Salon, Common Grounds, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Kindle. The average price for a soft cover is $10, and a hard cover is $20.